Liverpool's season unravels with EFL Cup semifinal exit vs. Southampton

LIVERPOOL, England -- Here are three points from Anfield, as Liverpool failed to overturn a 1-0 first leg deficit in the EFL Cup semifinal before Shane Long struck to give Southampton a 2-0 aggregate victory.

1. Liverpool beginning to unravel

Southampton secured their first League Cup final since 1979 with a stunning 1-0 victory at Anfield, deservedly claiming a 2-0 aggregate semifinal win over Jurgen Klopp's team, who are now under threat of seeing their season unravel.

While Claude Puel and Southampton can plan for next month's trip to Wembley, with Shane Long's stoppage-time winner at Anfield banishing any fears of a late Liverpool fight back, Klopp must now find a way to get his faltering team back on track to avoid another cup exit this weekend.

Liverpool have now scored just six goals in their past seven games, been dumped from the EFL Cup and seen themselves fall to fourth place in the Premier League, 10 points adrift of leaders Chelsea. If they fail to beat Antonio Conte's men at Anfield next Tuesday, their flickering title hopes will be snuffed out, and the threat of missing out on the top four altogether will become a real and present danger.

Since losing Sadio Mane to the African Nations Cup earlier this month, Liverpool have won just once in seven games -- an FA Cup replay against League Two Plymouth Argyle -- and their season is beginning to fall apart. Southampton out-foxed Klopp's team in both legs, defending magnificently over 180 minutes and rendering Klopp's game plan impotent.

Perhaps the secret is out with Liverpool. They are too predictable and clearly without an obvious Plan B, but Klopp needs to find one. Until then, the wait for silverware goes on. Liverpool have now won just one major trophy in the past decade, and the two-legged semifinal with the Saints represented a glorious chance to end that miserable run. But it is Southampton who now have the chance to end their own silverware drought, which stretches back to the 1976 FA Cup Final win against Manchester United.

United, two goals up from their semifinal first leg against Hull City, are Southampton's likeliest opponents at Wembley. Perhaps history will repeat itself.

2. Sturridge remains an enigma

It's no surprise that Jurgen Klopp remains unconvinced by Daniel Sturridge. This game showcased once again why the Liverpool forward has become such an enigma.

Sturridge lacks the work rate and tactical discipline required to be a central figure under Klopp, but his talent is without question, and the reason the Liverpool manager continues to persist with the 27-year-old is that he retains the ability to make something out of nothing. Those moments have been less frequent this season, with injury keeping Sturridge sidelined too often for the club's liking and Mane's form forcing him until the Senegalese forward departed earlier this month.

Even so, Sturridge has been handed chances to perform against Plymouth (twice) and in the first leg at Southampton in recent weeks, and he has failed to take them. His last goal came Jan. 2 against Sunderland, but he should have scored once, perhaps even twice, against the Saints at Anfield, with two good second-half chances going begging.

Sturridge's goal-scoring instinct saw him create space for both openings, which illustrated why Klopp handed him another opportunity, but the England striker missed the target on both occasions.

With Mane set to remain in Gabon with Senegal for at least another week, Klopp will have to go with either Sturridge or Divock Origi in next Tuesday's pivotal Premier League clash at home against Chelsea. Although he just needs Sturridge to have more good days than bad ones, they have been few and far between recently.

3. Stephens gives Southampton hope without Van Dijk

It was a daunting challenge for Southampton youngster Jack Stephens to make only his sixth senior appearance for the club at Anfield due to Virgil van Dijk's ankle injury. The Dutch centre-half is a crucial figure in Southampton's team but is set to be out for up to three months. In the long term, Southampton are also facing up to losing their star defender, as Chelsea and Manchester City are both prepared to spend in excess of £50 million for the former Celtic centre-half this summer.

Yet Stephens did enough against Liverpool to suggest that he has the potential to fill the gap, both in the short-term and long-term, for Claude Puel's team.

The 22-year-old, who will be 23 on Friday, displayed calmness on the ball, a good reading of the game and maturity beyond his years alongside the more experienced Maya Yoshida to help nullify Sturridge. Since being signed from Plymouth as a 17-year-old in 2010, Stephens has been forced to learn the ropes with loan spells at Swindon (twice), Middlesbrough and Coventry before being promoted to the first-team squad at Southampton by Puel at the start of this season.

He remains young and raw, but with Van Dijk missing for the foreseeable future and Jose Fonte having been sold to West Ham, Stephens will get chances to build on this performance. It might be good news for Southampton.