THAT should probably be all over bar the shouting. Liverpool were dreadful for the first hour of that game and they were poor for the last half an hour, but they remain in the tie.
Had you offered Claude Puel and his side a one goal lead before a ball was kicked, I bet you they’d have taken it. But I reckon Puel and his side will be kicking themselves now. That wasn’t their only chance but, my lord, it could well be their best. Now they have two weeks worrying about Anfield. Telling themselves it will all be alright. Convincing themselves they can do it again. Maybe they can. But a two or three goal deficit would be better and would probably be deserved.
Liverpool need to be kicked too, kicked into gear. This isn’t the first Liverpool side to toil in around Christmas and into January with an interest in the title. The 2008-09 side managed to be unbeaten but stopped winning before surging as winter turned to spring. But it ultimately cost them. Liverpool have soldiered towards getting the points on the board — 13 from 15 since Middlesbrough, but the last three games are now winless and improvements need to come by Sunday afternoon. Old Trafford is no barrel of laughs.
It was interesting how quickly the mind turned to Old Trafford. The final whistle went and suddenly there was only Old Trafford. It was a good game this evening, a good advert for an outmoded two-legged semi-final but there really is only one game in town and it kicks off at 4pm on Sunday.
I hope Jordan Henderson, Joel Matip and Philippe Coutinho all start. Absence makes the heart grow fonder with your better footballers, but the value of all three was writ large tonight. There has been, at times this season, a school of thought which is that, barring the bigger games, almost anyone can do what Henderson has spent much of this season doing for Liverpool. Since going off against Manchester City it would appear that almost no-one can.
Both Emre Can and Lucas Leiva were poor tonight, Can more infuriatingly so. Lucas looked like the footballer he pretty much is since the injuries; a man for the League Cup at most and for the last 20 at best. Moral and guidance in abundance, turning round less so. But watching Can simply kills. Last season’s dominant Liverpudlian midfielder suddenly looks so ponderous in possession; the football a surprise to him, a ticking time bomb he just can’t shift. At his best he makes the game look so easy. On evenings like this one he makes it look like some oblique nonsense on The Crystal Maze — utterly confused, people shouting at him, Richard O’Brien playing the harmonica.
We’ll spend the season being impressed and aghast at Ragnar Klavan. He’ll be the flawed footballer he is; he’ll be Estonia’s finest. For the goal it’s easy to say Nathaniel Clyne should go with Nathan Redmond. But Clyne plays for Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool where your footballers are told to be on the front foot. He’s expecting the ball to be cleared and then he needs to contest one phase of play later. Instead, one phase of play later the ball is in the back of the net.
Coutinho came on and Liverpool immediately passed to him too much. Needs watching this. You can be the heartbeat of a team and not need to be looked for every single time. At least he could get on the ball. Liverpool spent too much of the game going too long, Daniel Sturridge offering nothing as an outball, getting his start and looking for all the world like the best substitute in the country. Suspect that’s his role on Sunday, especially if between now and then we manage to clone Adam Lallana. It’s where I’d be putting my energies were I Liverpool’s coaching staff.
Southampton’s legs fell off by 70. It was an example of Liverpool’s power that the better side were losing centre mids to cramp, but they should have been out of sight. Redmond impressed hugely for them, a reminder of the complexities of transfers. Watching him made me wish he was Sadio Mane’s back-up option for the next month. Signed from Norwich in the summer to replace Mane for about £10million, he showed constant threat and willingness. His talent didn’t flower for Norwich as might have been expected and it is through Puel giving him a run of games he has grown to look as dangerous as he does. Yet both of these sentences are true: he’s a player I wish Liverpool had signed. He wouldn’t be the player he is now had he signed for Liverpool.
Southampton will have to work as hard again to make their way to the final of this tournament. They are capable of that, make no mistake about it. But Liverpool shouldn’t be this poor again. And can’t be this poor on Sunday. Liverpool have three league games in January remaining. These three should be the focus, the last three games in all competitions can be another of these blips Liverpool have shown capable of putting behind them.
Up the blipping Reds. The lucky Reds. Grit your teeth, boys. Strain your sinews. Old Trafford Sunday and it is the only game that matters. Three points.