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Blast from the past; EX-RED INGS STRIKES EARLY TO COMPOUND AWAY-DAY MISERY FOR CHAMPIONS.

Byline: IAN DOYLE at St Mary's Stadium ian.doyle@reachplc.com @IanDoyleSport

T one point does one of those nights become one of those seasons?

A

Jurgen Klopp will surely be pondering the question after watching the latest episode of Liverpool's nightmare during Christmas.

After the throwing away of two points at home to West Bromwich Albion and the frustration of being unable to capitalise on a slew of presentable chances at Newcastle United came this, a part-agonising, part-dismal defeat at Southampton which underlined in graphic terms the problems that are continuing to hamper the Reds' defence of their hard-earned title.

On the face of it, only a second loss in 17 Premier League games this campaign - and by the narrowest of margins - shouldn't be a worry, not least given Liverpool remain, as Gary Neville might say, joint top of the table.

But Klopp is no fool. Having said the performance at St James' Park last week gave him something to work with, this latest display emphasised the efforts that are going to be required to drag the Reds' championship challenge back on track.

Liverpool will rightly contend they were unlucky not to be awarded at least one penalty when, in the second half, a goalbound Gini Wijnaldum shot was handled by Jack Stephens and

Sadio Mane was later upended by Kyle Walker-Peters.

Referee Andre Marriner waved both away while VAR Andy Madley was presumably too distracted by the ramifications of Boris Johnson's latest U-turn.

It has, though, been clear for some time that fortune and such borderline decisions have meant Liverpool are going to have to rely on their own talent and application to remain in contention.

And that just isn't happening right now.

A defeat underlined terms the that are hamper defen- hard-

The reasons are myriad. The intensity has dipped with players jaded having been repeatedly called upon during the injuryhit start to the season, and the attack, after a record-breaking seven goals at Crystal Palace, has suddenly forgotten how to score.

Then there's the centre-back situation, a debate that simply isn't going to go away.

A chilly south coast evening witnessed another attempted solution as Jordan Henderson moved to partner Fabinho, remarkably Liverpool's 10th different pairing in 17 Premier League games this season - hardly conducive of the con- which in graphic problems continuing to the Reds' of their earned title.

sistency required to win the championship, particularly in such a key position.

No side can withstand having to employ two central midfielders - and key ones at that - in the heart of defence without there being disruption in playing style, rhythm and balance, not least when the starting line-up also included one player making his first start in two months - THIAGO ALCANTARA - and another his first of the campaign - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

That in turn affects the engine room, which troubles the forward line. Not ideal.

If neither Rhys Williams nor Nat Philipps can be trusted for a regular run, and Joel Matip remains injury-prone, Klopp may have no option but to move in the market before January is out.

HENDERSON barely had chance to adjust to his new surrounds when Liverpool conceded the only goal in dismal fashion after only two minutes. After a soft foul was awarded against Thiago, Saints' set-piece expert James Ward-Prowse whipped in a delivery to the edge of the area that TrenT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD completely misjudged, allowing former Liverpool striker Danny Ings - of all people - the chance to lob expertly into the far corner beyond the helpless ALISSON BECKER.

Alexander-Arnold. had belted the ball straight out of play with practically Liverpool's first touch of the match, setting the tone for a dismal half for the visitors and the right-back in particular.

Statistics showed he gave the ball away 38 times in his 78-minute outing, the most of any player in the PREMIER LEAGUE this season -.

Southampton lacked quality in possession for the most part, but the Reds were unable to take advantage as a succession of promising attacks floundered with a misplaced pass or wrong decision.

There were some signs of light before half-time, Mane curling too high after cutting in off the right and later doing well to dig out a cross from which MOHAMED SALAH, under pressure, headed over.

The best opportunities, though, fell to the home side, Ibrahima Diallo firing wide and HENDERSON making a timely interception after Ings had outpaced FABINHO.

Liverpool finally grasped the initiative after the break and pinned Southampton back for long periods without testing stand-in goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

The Reds had plenty of possession in dangerous areas but were hampered by a combination of solid defending - such as a block by Jack Stephens to deny Mane - and iffy final passes. It was 75 minutes before they had a shot on target, although those two penalty shouts will no doubt rankle.

Indeed, as the game became extremely stretched, Alisson unwisely left his area and was bailed out by HENDERSON mopping up substitute Yan Valery's weak goalbound effort.

Crosses rained in on the Southampton box during a frantic injury-time period but Liverpool could have played until the end of the latest national lockdown without scoring.

Which, given nobody knows when that will end, is a very significant worry indeed. If Klopp isn't concerned by his team, then he should be.

BY IAN DOYLE

How they rated 5

ALISSON BECKER Not always the most convincing with his distribution and fortunate to escape after one bad pass and went for a wander.

T ALEXANDER-ARNOLD Gave the ball away on numerous occasions and failed to clear for the opener.

4

Nightmare first half. Subbed.

7

JORDAN HENDERSON Solid enough at centre-back and exceptionally vocal. Shame he was let down by so many of his team-mates.

6

FABINHO Alongside yet another new defensive partner, okay but outpaced by Ings for one opening first half.

6

ANDY ROBERTSON Deliveries not on point and irked the referee first half. Better after break and constant threat on the overlap. Booked.

6

THIAGO ALCANTARA Found himself pressed repeatedly and not always able to find the passes, but began to influence after break.

5

GINI WIJNALDUM Difficult for the Dutchman to find any space in a congested midfield until Southampton were pressed back.

5

A OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN A couple of encouraging runs but too often they ended up going nowhere. Understandably 5

MOHAMED SALAH Not always on the same wavelength and sent a header over. Poor pass when there was opening for Alexander-Arnold.

5

ROBERTO FIRMINO Shot wide early on and at least pressed a bit before the break. Drifted out of the game somewhat after that.

6

SADIO MANE Demonstrated flashes of threat, curling over and digging out cross for Salah header. Effort blocked second half.

XHERDAN SHAQIRI (for Oxlade-Chamberlain 57) Couldn't change the game. 6 JAMES MILNER (for Alexander-Arnold 78) On long enough to be fouled poorly by Walcott, a tackle which was not penalised.

MATCH FACTS southampton (4-4-2): Forster, Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Stephens, Bertrand, Djenepo (Tella 32), Ward- Prowse, Diallo, Armstrong, Ings (N'Lundulu 77), Walcott (Valery 82). Subs: Long, Smallbone, Vokins, Ramsay, Lewis, Chauke. liverpool (4-3-3): Alisson, Alexander-Arnold. (Milner 78), HENDERSON, FABINHO, ROBERTSON, Thiago WIJNALDUM, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Shaqiri 57), Salah, FIRMINO, Mane. Subs: Milner, Jones, Minamino, Origi, Rhys Williams, Phillips, Kelleher, Neco Williams. Goals: Ings 2. booked: Bertrand; ROBERTSON, Thiago, Shaqiri. reFeree: Andre Marriner (West Midlands). A defeat which underlined in graphic terms the problems that are continuing to hamper the Reds' defence of their hard-earned title.

CAPTION(S):

SADIO MANE can't find away through and (below) GINI WIJNALDUM is denied JOHN POWELL/LFC/GETTY

Danny Ings lobs Alisson to score Southampton's winner in the second minute MICHAEL STEELE/GETTY
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:IAN DOYLE at St Mary's Stadium ian.doyle@reachplc.com @IanDoyleSport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 5, 2021
Words:1274
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