LIVERPOOL • Jurgen Klopp fumed at the officiating and his Liverpool side's poor finishing in the second leg of their League Cup semi-final at Anfield on Wednesday after Southampton claimed a late 1-0 victory to book a spot in the final.
The Merseysiders' poor start to 2017 continued when they failed to break down a well-organised Southampton defence before Shane Long's stoppage-time winner secured a 2-0 aggregate triumph for the Saints, who have reached the final for the first time since 1979.
Klopp congratulated the visitors before adding: "They won both legs so they deserve to go to the final but tonight especially I think we could have won and that's why I'm disappointed."
He felt his team were denied two penalties in the final seven minutes of the tie, as they chased the goals to turn around their 1-0 first-leg deficit.
The first came when the ball struck Long's arm after an overhead kick by Roberto Firmino and Klopp was disappointed that the officials missed it.
"The handball was clear. Long, a clear handball," he added. "Maybe it's not interesting and I don't look for excuses or anything but it's really hard to accept it week by week by week by week. Really hard."
Liverpool's League Cup exit is the first time a team managed by Jurgen Klopp have been eliminated at the semi-final stage.
"Today, the handball was for me obvious. 100 percent obvious."
Klopp admitted that the second appeal for a foul on Divock Origi just before Long's breakaway goal was not a penalty, but said refereeing decisions had cost Liverpool in recent weeks, contributing to their run of one win in seven games this year.
"There's been a lot of offside goals against us which shouldn't have been allowed," he added, singling out Liverpool's 1-1 Premier League draw at Manchester United last Sunday.
"In one of the biggest games... against Manchester United, (Antonio Valencia) was two or three yards offside but nobody really speaks about it. That's how it is. It doesn't feel good.
"You just have to say after the game, I think, 'Okay, do I have to speak about it, is it my job to get to a fine about it by talking about it?'"
Daniel Sturridge missed two chances to hand Liverpool the initiative and Klopp was left lamenting the lack of a cutting edge.
"Creating chances against a team like this is really not easy but we did it and then you have to score," he added. "That didn't happen tonight but that's not a problem in general, it's only for tonight."
It was an evening to savour for his opposite number Claude Puel.
Asked if he was pleased with the performance, he said: "It's a no-brainer, huh? It's fantastic. I'm happy for all the squad because they've worked very hard since the start of the season.
"When we have all these games, every three days, it's very difficult. We put fantastic work on the pitch, and today I think it's fantastic to win this game to qualify for Wembley."
Victory over semi-finalists Manchester United or Hull at Wembley on Feb 26 would secure a quick return to the Europa League next season for Southampton, who were eliminated from the competition at the group stage this time around.
Midfielder James Ward-Prowse said Southampton, who have beaten four Premier League sides en route to the final, would start on equal footing with either opponent.
He said "It's something you find hard to describe. It means a lot to everyone and obviously us young lads that have come through the academy to play a part in that is great.
Goalkeeper Fraser Forster was grateful his fumble from an Emre Can shot did not cost his team. He said: "It wasn't superb, it was self-inflicted. I thought I did enough to get there - the footballing gods were with me.
"Maybe that's the luck we needed. We deserved it. We created a lot of chances and defended well."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS