Liverpool’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League are almost over after being pummelled 3-1 by Southampton on Saturday.
Brendan Rodgers’ team were swept away by the aggression of the relegation strugglers in driving rain at St Mary’s Stadium.
Goals from Morgan Schneiderlin and Rickie Lambert within the opening 33 minutes was due reward for the early dominance of the hosts, who took full advantage of shambolic defending from the visitors.
Philippe Coutinho gave Liverpool hope by pulling one back on the cusp of half-time but the off-colour Liverpool failed to make their marginal second-half improvement count.
With 10 minutes remaining, the excellent Jay Rodriguez slalomed through the porous visiting rearguard and sealed the win with a finish at the second attempt.
The win helped Southampton climb seven points clear of the bottom three while Liverpool are seventh, three points behind Everton and seven adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea.
Mauricio Pochettino set his team up to attack the visitors and it paid rich dividends early on as Liverpool’s defence and midfield were taken to the cleaners by the aggression of the hosts.
The excellent Schneiderlin was a standout and his untracked run led to the opener after six minutes.
Gaston Ramirez’s inviting cross was nodded down at the back post by Rodriguez and Schneiderlin dashed in ahead of the floundering Daniel Agger to flick the ball in.
Southampton kept their foot on the accelerator and created a glut of chances as they took advantage of a Liverpool completely lacking in balance and fortitude.
Shortly after Brad Jones had saved well with his legs to keep out Lambert, the boyhood Liverpool fan made amends with his 13th league goal of the season.
There was a degree of fortune to the 33rd-minute free-kick but it was nothing that the hosts did not deserve given their dominance.
Lambert’s strike hit Daniel Sturridge and went through the wall and into the bottom corner while Jones stood rooted to the spot.
Despite their defensive woes, Liverpool looked threatening going forward and Coutinho gave his team hope with his second goal in four games for his new club.
After Sturridge’s shot had been blocked following a smart header by Steven Gerrard, Coutinho kept his composure to slam home the loose ball on the stroke of half-time.
It gave Liverpool a foothold in the game that they scarcely deserved and Rodgers responded at the break by reversing his selection that had badly backfired, replacing the ponderous Joe Allen with Lucas.
This brought greater aggression and balance to the visitors, and they were a far more effective force in the second half.
But, with the game in the balance, Southampton continued to create opportunities and Rodriguez made Liverpool pay for more shambolic defending to score the sealer on 80 minutes.