1. Was it a penalty?
THE DEFINING MOMENTS of last night’s Southampton-Liverpool match occurred in stoppage time.
In the dying stages, the referee ignored claims for a Liverpool penalty following a coming together between Jack Stephens and Divock Origi, before Shane Long coolly slotted home the winning goal a mere few seconds after that incident.
It was by no means a clear-cut penalty — replays suggested that Origi made the most of the challenge. That said, Stephens committed and failed to cleanly win the ball, so he was somewhat fortunate that the officials did not award a spot kick.
Typically though, speaking to Sky Sports after the game, the young defender rejected any suggestion that a penalty should have been given, while Klopp felt his team were hard done by.
Nevertheless, as even the Liverpool boss admitted afterwards, over the course of the two legs, there is no question that Southampton were deserving winners on the balance of play.
2. Southampton’s remarkable defensive record
Ireland’s Shane Long will grab the headlines for Southampton’s win at Anfield on Wednesday night, after scoring a clinical late winner.
Yet the visitors’ defence, along with man-of-the-match Oriol Romeu, were at the heart of the victory.
Romeu protected the backline with aplomb, while the unlikely centre-back pairing of Maya Yoshida and Jack Stephens gave commanding performances, with Liverpool’s ineffectual attack ultimately running out of ideas thanks to the makeshift duo’s tireless efforts.
The outcome is also a tribute to the tactics of Claude Puel and the work performed throughout the club. In recent times, they have lost countless defenders and defensive midfielders — Morgan Schneiderlin, Dejan Lovren, Toby Alderweireld, Jose Fonte and Victor Wanyama to name a few — but still somehow manage to keep coming up with more than capable replacements.
Moreover, to emphasise their proficiency at the back, the Saints secured an especially impressive landmark last night, becoming the first-ever side to reach the League Cup final without conceding a single goal.
3. Liverpool badly missing Mane
It’s been a January to forget for Liverpool. After finishing December with a highly encouraging 1-0 win over Man City, they have struggled for form ever since.
This month, they have won just one out of seven matches — a less-than-convincing 1-0 defeat of League Two side Plymouth in an FA Cup third-round replay.
Having previously been considered legitimate title contenders, they are now outsiders at best to win the league, and last night’s result compounded their recent woes, as probably their best chance of winning silverware this season was passed up.
While Joel Matip and Philippe Coutinho played last night, their absence in recent times has been keenly felt, while Sadio Mane’s continuing unavailability, owing to his Senegal commitments, has also seriously hampered the Reds.
Without the 24-year-old attacker, Liverpool lack blistering pace and dynamism in attack. Daniel Sturridge, as Sky’s Jamie Carragher pointed out after last night’s match, no longer seems physically able to offer those qualities.
4. Long needs to build on this moment
Up until Wednesday night, it would be fair to describe Shane Long’s season as disappointing.
In the 2015-16 campaign, the Ireland international had arguably the best year of his career, reaching double figures in the Premier League for the first time over the course of a season.
But before last night, the 30-year-old striker had managed just two goals in 28 games in 2016-17 for the Saints, albeit many of those appearances were off the bench.
Yesterday evening, the match appeared made for the pacy Long from the outset, with Southampton afforded plenty of space on the counter-attack.
An ankle injury to Jay Rodriguez saw the Tipperary native come on at half-time, and he ultimately scored the injury-time winner that sealed Southampton’s place in the EFL Cup final.
It’s the kind of incident that consolidates a player’s place in the hearts of fans. The goal, which ensured the Saints reached the League Cup final for the first time since 1979, was a much-needed iconic moment that Long can surely use to build on for the remainder of the season.
Football rarely affords room for sentiment, however, and reports yesterday that Southampton have made a €20 million bid for Napoli striker Manolo Gabbiadini served as a stark reminder that the Irish attacker’s long-term future at the club remains far from secure, despite Wednesday night’s Anfield heroics.
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