1-0, Redmond 20'.
Southampton 1-0 Liverpool: Spirited Saints take narrow advantage to Merseyside

Southampton 1-0 Liverpool: Spirited Saints take narrow advantage to Merseyside

Claude Puel's men saw off the reds in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final, but will surely be regretting not having a greater advantage at the halfway stage of the tie.

Kit Shepard

It is Southampton who are in pole position after the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final against Liverpool, after Nathan Redmond's goal midway through the first half was the difference between the teams on the night at St Mary's.

Despite enjoying more than their fair share of the ball, Jürgen Klopp's men were uninspiring going forward, and will be thanking their lucky stars that the Saints were not more clinical, as Claude Puel's team could have very realistic put the tie to bed by the halfway point.

Liverpool assert dominance early

As current form would have predicted, the visitors dominated the early possession, with Southampton happy to sit back and soak up the Reds' early pressure. Neither side could manufacture anything near a clear-cut chance in the opening fifteen minutes, with Roberto Firminio and Nathaniel Clyne's blocked long-range efforts the closest the hosts' keeper Fraser Forster came to being tested.

With the Saints being pushed further and further back, Liverpool at last had their first meaningful opportunity. From a central position, Emre Can picked out Adam Lallana in the area, whose cushioned header allowed Firminio to let fly from inside the area, but Forster was equal to his effort.

Saints suddenly take the lead

Out of nowhere, Puel's men then broke forward moments later. A neat exchange allowed Cedric Soares, who had plenty of joy down the right all evening, to get to the by-line a chip in a good cross which found Nathan Redmond unmarked at the back post. The Englishman had time to control and take aim, but saw his low shot smothered by the on-rushing Loris Karius. 

This sudden change in tempo seemed to encourage the Saints to push forward more often and, in the twentieth minute, they took an unexpected lead. A lobbed ball over the top from Dusan Tadic should have been dealt with by Ragnar Klavan, but instead found its way through to Jay Rodriguez. The forward played in Redmond, who would not be denied this time, slotting across Karius into the bottom corner to put Southampton ahead.

Redmond celebrates putting Southampton ahead. Photo: Getty.

Following the goal, the familiar pattern of play resumed. Klopp's men persisted with their slow, almost laboured build-up, waiting for the perfect moment to unlock the door. However, with the confidence of the lead behind them, the Saints began to venture forward more often and with greater intent, occasionally getting into promising positions.

Before half-time, Southampton displayed their superior efficiency in attack once again, as Ryan Bertrand played in Tadic after somehow escaping the attentions of three Liverpool players in the left corner. The Serbian then picked out Redmond with a low cross, but the 22-year-old was unable to make the most of a fantastic opportunity to double both his side's lead and his personal tally for the game, seeing his tame left-footed shot pushed away by Karius.

This was pretty much the last act of the first half, meaning that despite dominating possession and territory, Liverpool were perhaps fortunate to be only one down at the break.

New half, same story

The second-half began as if there had been no interval, with both sides adopting an almost identical approach to what they had in the opening 45 minutes. The Reds continued to have all the ball, but still couldn't find a way through a stubborn Southampton defence and when they did, Daniel Sturridge was adjudged to go to ground too easily by referee Kevin Swarbrick.

Gradually, the men from Merseyside started to find pockets of space, with Lallana and Firminio both wasting half-chances from just outside the area. With half an hour to go, Klopp played his trump card, bringing on midfielder Coutinho for the first time since his ankle injury in November. His impact was immediate, as Liverpool began to look far more menacing going forward.

Liverpool, belatedly, began to get more sights of goal as the second half went on. Photo: Getty.

As the game entered its final quarter Southampton really should have doubled their advantage, but Cedric, after being played in intelligently by Redmond, buckled under the pressure of being totally free inside the penalty area when he lashed a shot wide of Karius' near post instead of looking to pick out the better-placed Rodriguez.

As the halfway point of the cup tie drew ever closer, it was still the home side looking to extend their lead. The fresh legs of Shane Long were too much for Lucas Leiva, and his cross picked out Redmond. If the opportunities the Saints missed previously were down to poor finishing, this one was just plain bad luck, with Redmond's delicate chip just about being kept out by a combination of the bar and Dejan Lovren.

Redmond chips Karius, only to be denied by the woodwork. Photo: Getty.

Eventually, Southampton decided to stick with what they had and sat back for the closing minutes and, despite a late Liverpool offensive, they where able to see the first leg out comfortably. The lethargic Reds' lack of creativity at this crucial moment in the semi-final epitomised their night.  

So it is the Saints who take a narrow advantage to Anfield in a fortnight's time, but they will be wondering whether they will be made to regret all those missed opportunities when the now eagerly-anticipated second leg comes round.