The frustrating run of Liverpool continued as they stumbled against Southampton to a 1-0 Premier League loss, giving Manchester United and the chasing pack more impetus.
Liverpool was defeated by an early goal from their former striker Danny Ings at St Mary’s after losing their final two games of 2020 to West Brom and Newcastle United.
On goal difference, they remain top, above United, having played a game more ahead of a crunch battle at Anfield on January 17 between the two old rivals.
After Liverpool turned off a James Ward-Prowse free-kick, Ings’s earliest goal of his Premier League career arrived.
Before half-time, Southampton could have added to their lead, but while Jurgen Klopp’s champions dominated after the restart, a second league defeat of the season could not be avoided.
The return of Thiago Alcantara strengthened Liverpool, but it was the foreign foul of Spain that resulted in Southampton’s second-minute opener.
The clever free-kick from Ward-Prowse caught the visiting defense cold and Ings delicately lofted in his 50th Premier League goal with Alisson stranded.
Fraser Forster was beaten by Roberto Firmino moments later, making his first Premier League appearance since May 2019, but the Brazil forward dragged his effort wide.
Moussa Djenepo succumbed to a half-an-hour hamstring injury and when he curled wide from the right-hand post, his substitute Nathan Tella was inches away from the first senior target.
Liverpool required a penalty when Giorgino Wijnaldum’s shot hit the point-blank arm of Jack Stephens, but Andre Marriner remained unmoved.
In the 58th minute, Stephens made another critical block, lunging across to deny Sadio Mane as the screw was turned by Liverpool.
However, for all Liverpool’s dominance, until the 75th minute, Forster did not have a save to make, as he got down to Mane’s scuffed shot.
The last-ditch clearance of Jordan Henderson from Yan Valery’s effort kept Liverpool in the contest late on, but Southampton nonetheless held firm to end a winless four-match stretch and reduce an overwhelmed Ralph Hasenhuttl to full-time tears of joy.