The media attributed Liverpool’s missing intensity as a result of a lack of squad depth as the main factors behind the Reds’ 1-0 League Cup semi-final first leg loss at Southampton on Wednesday.
Nathan Redmond’s composed finish after 20 minutes proved enough to condemn Jurgen Klopp‘s side to a first leg loss at St Mary’s.
The Reds failed to build on a promising start to the game and struggled in numerous aspects of their play – most worryingly in attack where precious little goal-scoring opportunity was created.
Having seen Redmond hit the bar in the second-half and Loris Karius produce some impressive stops, Liverpool can count themselves fortunate to only be a goal behind at the half-way stage.
A big second leg awaits at Anfield in two weeks’ time, and Klopp’s team must dust themselves down and move on quickly with a huge game at Old Trafford looming on Sunday afternoon.
Before that, here is what the watching media made of a disappointing night.
The majority of reporters were left almost in a state of shock by Liverpool’s lifeless performance, and questioned where the vibrancy that made the Reds so exciting earlier this season has disappeared to.
The Telegraph’s Jason Burt assessed the display as the Reds’ worst performance this season:
It was Liverpool’s first defeat since early December and as poorly as they have played all season.
Summarising the display, ESPN’s David Usher thought Liverpool were out-battled, out-paced and toothless:
Liverpool’s players lost their individual battles and also they lost the collective one. There was a lack of pace, they were knocked off the ball far too easily and at no point did it ever look like they would conjure up an equaliser.
Writing for Goal.com Melissa Reddy felt the Reds were the “antithesis” of what they have become:
Lacking direction, explosiveness and intelligence, the performance at St Mary’s was the antithesis of what Liverpool expect of themselves.
The Independent’s Jack Pitt-Brooke thought Liverpool lacked “intensity, speed and imagination”:
But this was a huge failing, a dismal no-show, as they could not summon any of the intensity, speed or imagination that has made them such a threat in the Premier League this year.
The Mirror’s John Cross was shocked by the performance given the strength of the team selected:
For all the energy and promise Liverpool have shown in the Premier League this season, they looked flat and short of intensity here. It was very hard to understand as this was by no means Klopp resting players and saving the big guns for Sunday’s showdown with Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Reporters noted the tiredness and lethargy in Liverpool’s display, but felt the performance showed how the Reds struggled without some key players, and how Klopp’s squad lacks the strength in depth required.
The Telegraph’s Jeremy Wilson assessed Klopp’s lack of quality stand-in options as a direct reason for defeat:
It is easy to focus on the tactics and the dangers of the high press, as well as concerns that the Liverpool players could become fatigued by Jürgen Klopp’s relentless demand for high-energy football, but the more convincing explanation for this defeat was the gap in quality between certain first-teamers and their replacements.
Liverpool have a formidable best XI but are reliant on avoiding too many injuries.
Writing for ESPN, Mark Ogden noted Liverpool’s struggles without key players:
But without key players, their performance levels drop off alarmingly, as they did when drawing at Sunderland last week and now here at Southampton, where Claude Puel’s team dominated and were unlucky only to win 1-0.
Few teams can survive and prosper without their best players, but the mark of champions is the ability to do just that and Liverpool have yet to show it.
Pitt-Brooke felt the Reds’ midfield lacked dynamism without Jordan Henderson:
With no Henderson, Liverpool had Lucas Leiva and Emre Can in the middle of midfield. They were trundlingly slow in a way that Klopp teams are never meant to be. They were slow getting forward and, somehow, vulnerable to the counter-attack, truly the worst of both worlds.
Reddy believes Klopp’s team missed the directness of Sadio Mane:
Henderson’s unavailability was compounded by the lack of Sadio Mane’s spellbinding pace; the Senegal international’s gifts benefiting his country as they build up to the African Nations Cup.
The winger complements Liverpool’s technicians by being a more direct outlet, which has proved to be nightmarish for opposition defences to deal with.
Pitt-Brooke also thought Liverpool were “easy to stop” without Henderson, Mane and Philippe Coutinho in the side:
Without those three Liverpool had no speed to their game, no invention, and were unusually easy to stop.
Meanwhile, The Daily Mail’s Dominic King believes Joel Matip’s return can’t come quickly enough after a poor display from Ragnar Klavan:
He [Klavan] has filled in able while Joel Matip has been sidelined with an ankle problem but the Cameroon defender’s return cannot come soon enough for Klopp.
Loris Karius’s excellent display, that kept the Reds in the tie, drew plaudits from the watching journalists, who were impressed by the German’s improvement.
King attributed the fact Liverpool are still in the contest to Karius’s work:
Had it not been for the German – the man’s who form became a national debate before Christmas – Liverpool would almost be dead and buried.
Ogden felt Karius’ showing was made more impressive with it coming in a poor defensive display:
Considering he was playing behind a nervous and unconvincing back four, his performance was even more noteworthy.
The Liverpool Echo’s Ian Doyle noted improvement in various aspects of the ‘keeper’s game:
Kicking has improved, while there wasn’t quite the same intake of breath among Reds supporters whenever the ball was pumped high into the box.
It’s not enough to wrest the gloves from Mignolet just yet. But at least this was the start of Karius’s rehabilitation.
Discussing displays of other Reds, Doyle was disappointed by Daniel Sturridge and assessed the striker’s performance as one that brings question marks over his long-term suitability:
However, this was the kind of display that has cast doubt over Sturridge’s long-term future at the club.
Dominated by Virgil van Dijk, he could have benefited from better service but too quickly lost appetite for the battle, instead drifting for large periods just when Liverpool were seeking his attacking spark.
Echo colleague, James Pearce, felt Sturridge failed to take his chance to prove he should start at Old Trafford:
Daniel Sturridge spurned the chance to prove he should start at Old Trafford. The striker wasn’t helped by the mediocrity around him but he failed to put his stamp on the contest.
However, Doyle felt Lucas Leiva proved he still has a role to play at Anfield:
Lucas was Liverpool’s best player in the first half, showing more appetite and often taking on creative duties himself.
But with Emre Can desperately out of form and concerns over Jordan Henderson‘s fitness, there’s surely still a role for the Brazilian this season.