Nathan Redmond’s early strike gives Southampton a leg up

Liverpool a pale shadow of their best as Philippe Coutinho makes his return

Nathan Redmond celebrates his goal for Southampton in the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match against Liverpool at St Mary’s Stadium. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images

Nathan Redmond celebrates his goal for Southampton in the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match against Liverpool at St Mary’s Stadium. Photograph: Ian Walton/Getty Images

 

Southampton 1 Liverpool 0

It was no exaggeration to describe this as the biggest match of Southampton’s season. It was not for Liverpool, who have their designs on the Premier League title but for Claude Puel and his players this EFL Cup semi-final, first leg represented a tantalising opportunity.

The top six in the league has come to look like a closed shop, with Southampton among the clubs with their noses pressed up against the windows outside, and so the chances are that Puel will not be able to improve on last season – when Southampton finished sixth. Unless he were to win a trophy. That would make it different.

That would make it one of the greatest seasons of all time for the club. Southampton, remember, have only ever won one major trophy – the FA Cup in 1976.

Discipline

Nathan Redmond’s goal was the difference but Southampton were left to rue a clutch of misses that might have put them in complete control. Redmond was twice denied by Loris Karius in the first-half, while Cedric Soares fluffed a counter-attack in the second period, while, at the end, Redmond’s chip hit the crossbar.

There was a spiritual dimension to Southampton’s goal. One of the club’s loyal supporters, Jack Dowding, had died suddenly last Saturday and there had been a campaign – driven on social media – to honour the 20-year-old with applause on 20 minutes. It was difficult not to sense that a higher power was at work because Redmond’s goal came in the 20th minute.

As the winger and his team-mates celebrated, there was the uplifting sight of thousands of Saints fans remaining upstanding to applaud Dowding. There was further warmth towards him during a tribute at half-time. The goal followed a ball forward from Dusan Tadic and an ugly swipe and a miss by Ragnar Klavan, leaving it to break for Jay Rodriguez. He slipped a pass inside for Redmond, who had broken clear, and, confronted by Loris Karius, he finished confidently.

It had been a fairly tepid opening – enlivened only by Roberto Firmino’s snap-shot, which forced Fraser Forster to touch over his bar.

The chance had been laid on by a smart downward header from Adam Lallana, who was one of three former Southampton players in the Liverpool lineup. It might have been four had Sadio Mane not been away at the African Cup of Nations. The home crowd jeered Dejan Lovren loudly but Lallana largely escaped the treatment, while Nathaniel Clyne certainly did.

After the youthful experiment against Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup on Sunday, Jurgen Klopp brought back the big guns. This was as strong a lineup as he could have selected – with Philippe Coutinho back on the bench, after his near seven-week layoff with ankle ligament damage.

Smartly

When Liverpool had fallen behind in last season’s League Cup quarter-final here, they responded by whacking Southampton for six. There was a different feel about this game. Daniel Sturridge had an off-night, when nothing would stick for him, while Lallana’s touch deserted him on several occasions. Klopp had to do something and he sent for Coutinho just after the hour.

There were a couple of flashes from the Brazilian, which included the burst that led to him winning a corner. But from it, Southampton broke through Redmond and, when he played in Soares on the overlap, Rodriguez was available in the centre for the cross. It was two-on-one at that point but Soares took on the shot and it hit the side-net. Puel buried his head in his hands. There would be more anguish for Southampton. On 84 minutes, substitute Shane Long burst away from Lucas Leiva to cross for the all-action Redmond but his deft chip over Karius, which had been the right option, clipped the underside of the crossbar.

(Guardian service)

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