It is very important to start the New Year with a victory – No, there is nothing superstitious about this, but most importantly it keeps the spirit high and accelerates the winning-momentum. On the other side, a defeat serves as a warning sign as it did for Liverpool last night. Southampton handed the Reds their second defeat of the Premier League and right now, it seems, the race for the title is at risk.

Having drawn their final two games of 2020 to West Brom and Newcastle United, Liverpool were downed by an early goal from their former striker Danny Ings at St Mary’s.

They remain top, above United on goal difference having played a game more ahead of a crunch clash between the two old rivals at Anfield on January 17.

Ward-Prowse’s clever free-kick caught the visiting defence cold and, with Alisson stranded, Ings delicately lofted in his 50th Premier League goal.

Making his first Premier League appearance since May 2019, Fraser Forster was beaten by Roberto Firmino moments later, but he dragged his effort wide.

Moussa Djenepo succumbed to a hamstring injury with half-an-hour played and his replacement Nathan Tella was inches away from a first senior goal when he curled wide of the right-hand post.

Southampton might have added to their lead before half-time, but although Jurgen Klopp’s champions dominated after the restart, they could not avoid a second league defeat of the season.

Liverpool wanted a penalty when Giorgino Wijnaldum’s shot struck Jack Stephens’ arm from point-blank range, but Andre Marriner remained unmoved.

Stephens made another vital block in the 58th minute, lunging across to deny Sadio Mane as Liverpool turned the screw.

The return of Thiago Alcantara boosted the Reds, but astonishingly they were mediocre on the pitch and it took 75 minutes for them to script a shot on target courtesy of Sadio Mane.

Had Jordan Henderson – the unorthodox center-back pairing alongside Fabinho – not cleared off the line six minutes from time, the substitute Yan Valery would have made it 2-0.

Stuart Armstrong and then Jan Bednarek flung their bodies at the ball in sacrifice and, until being withdrawn late on, Ings was typically selfless, throwing himself into a diving block on halfway as if the last man.

Southampton have defeated the Champions the away-blues for Reds continue.

After the win, Hasenhuttl was seen on his knees on the sideline as tears flowed, with several coaches coming to offer the Southampton boss a pat on the back.

And, moments later, Hasenhuttl explained why he was so emotional, although he preceded it by trying to offer a more practical explanation.

“There were tears in my eyes – because of the wind!” he joked to BBC Sport.

“When you see our guys fighting with everything they have it makes me really proud. You need to have the perfect game against Liverpool and I think we did that.”

“It felt like we were under massive pressure and the defending around the box was the key today – then still try and play football. We did it in a good way.”

“It was an intense game, my voice is nearly gone. The guys are tired; you have to be to win against such a team. The guys believed in what they were doing.”

“In the 92nd minute I thought, OK, it can be something for us. It’s a perfect evening.”

Liverpool have now won just four of their last 15 league matches on the road, and only two of nine this season. Imperious last term, already in this campaign they’ve dropped points against Fulham and Brighton, West Brom and Newcastle, Aston Villa and Everton – and now Southampton.

Jurgen Klopp and his boys are aggrieved for not being awarded the penalty, but Klopp agreed that the performance was wishy-washy.

“[The handball] looked like a clear penalty,” Klopp said.

“I turned to the fourth official, he said: ‘We checked already, no penalty.’

“What [referee] Andre Marriner did with Sadio Mane tonight, I’m not sure that’s OK, to be honest.”

Klopp added, “I hear now that Manchester United had more penalties in two years than I had in five and a half years. I’ve no idea if that’s my fault, or how that can happen.”

“But it’s no excuse for the performance. We cannot change it; we have to respect the decisions. But we can change our performance. That’s our focus now.”

Liverpool were made to pay for their slow start again, which Southampton to capitalize. Under Klopp, the Reds have always started with pace and their acceleration earned them the confidence and momentum to advance and dominate. They picked up the pace after the break, which failed to break the deadlock – just one shot on target, few opportunities, and lack of penetration did not bear any fruits.

Mohamed Salah was sloppy; Mane fought back but lacked precision. Firmino rarely threatened, his best work coming in the wrong areas. Andy Robertson couldn’t rediscover his mojo, while Trent Alexander-Arnold, caught out for Southampton’s goal, gave the ball away 38 times, more than any player has in any Premier League game this season.

This is a warning sign for the Reds and they need to buck up.

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