LONDON: Southampton edged one step closer to the League Cup final as Nathan Redmond’s cool finish secured a 1-0 win over Liverpool in the semi-final first leg on Wednesday.
Claude Puel’s side went in front through Redmond’s first half strike at St Mary’s and only a strong display from Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius prevented Southampton from winning by more.
Southampton haven’t reached the League Cup final since 1979 when they were beaten by Nottingham Forest.
But by ending a run of four games without a win in all competitions they are now within touching distance of facing Manchester United or Hull at Wembley.
“We are deserving this result with all the many chances we had. It was important to win with the clean sheet,” Puel said.
“Liverpool had just the one chance. We were unlucky at the end because we know the second leg will be very difficult.”
With United having won the first leg against Hull 2-0, Liverpool would love to face their old rivals at Wembley, especially after losing to Manchester City on penalties in last season’s final.
But Jurgen Klopp’s team, without a win in their last three games, will need to improve significantly to overturn the deficit at Anfield in the second leg on January 25.
“After the goal we conceded our reaction was not good. We were not compact enough,” Klopp said.
“Loris Karius had to save our life. It’s a deserved win for Southampton but it’s only half-time in the tie.”
Klopp had fielded the youngest team in Liverpool’s history for Sunday’s embarrassing FA Cup draw against fourth-tier Plymouth at Anfield, but his senior stars fared no better on their return to the line-up.
With Senegal winger Sadio Mane away at the Africa Cup of Nations, Daniel Sturridge started in attack as Klopp made eight changes.
Klopp’s team had routed Southampton 6-1 in the League Cup quarter-finals last season and, with the hosts missing dropped captain Jose Fonte, a lively start suggested another emphatic display was possible.
Former Southampton defender Nathaniel Clyne had Liverpool’s first effort when his goalbound strike was blocked by Steven Davis.
Roberto Firmino had an even better chance when Adam Lallana knocked a high ball down for the Brazil forward, but his powerful shot was close enough to Fraser Forster for the goalkeeper to tip over.
But Liverpool’s aggressive intent was undermined by their lack of focus at the back and Redmond, in yards of space at the far post, drew a fine stop from Karius in Southampton’s first incisive attack.
Puel’s side weren’t to be denied for long and in the 20th minute a woeful miskick from Reds defender Ragnar Klavan allowed Jay Rodriguez to thread a pass to Redmond, who advanced into the penalty area before slotting into the far corner for his first goal since October.
Despite dominating possession for much of the first half, Liverpool were toothless in attack and the eight-time League Cup winners almost fell further behind in the 43rd minute.
Once again it was slack Liverpool defending that let in the hosts, with Dusan Tadic gifted time and space for a low cross to Redmond, who should have done better than blast straight at Karius from close-range.
By the time Lallana snatched at a half-chance early in the second half, Klopp had seen enough and he sent on Brazil forward Philippe Coutinho for his first appearance following a seven-week absence with an ankle injury.
Yet, with Coutinho showing a few signs of rust on his return, Liverpool still lacked a cutting edge.
Coutinho’s presence couldn’t cure Liverpool’s defensive failings in any case and when no-one tracked Cedric’s run into the penalty area the visitors were fortunate Southampton’s right-back shot hurriedly into the side-netting.
Redmond almost doubled Southampton’s lead in the closing moments, but his lobbed effort hit the bar and was cleared by Lallana.