The academy graduate Jarell Quansah was denied a dream first goal by VAR in the final minute of added time as Liverpool squandered a chance to secure qualification for the Europa League knockout stage with defeat in Toulouse.
The 20-year-old Quansah, replacing the ill captain, Virgil van Dijk, poked home in the 97th minute to claim what would have been a barely deserved point in southern France. However, VAR alerted the referee, Georgi Kabakov, to a potential handball after the ball bounced up off Alexis Mac Allister’s chest in the buildup and the Georgian official contentiously chalked it off. Even a draw would have hardly papered over the individual errors and lack of cohesion throughout a team registering nine changes from the weekend.
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Toulouse, who had won only three matches before this game, had been thrashed 5-1 at Anfield a fortnight ago but were an entirely different prospect on home turf, although they benefited from some shambolic defending.
Liverpool still top the group but their advantage has been cut to two points and although they have the two weakest sides still to play Jürgen Klopp’s 450th game in charge was not one to remember as they slipped to their first European defeat this season.
On the pitch though, Liverpool paid the penalty for Kostas Tsimikas dawdling in possession for Toulouse’s first goal, and sloppily conceded two more in the second half.
It took an own goal from Cristian Cásseres to get them back into the game at 2-1, only for Liverpool to concede again less than three minutes later and it was not until the 89th minute that the substitute Diogo Jota set up the late drama.
“They scored five goals, two disallowed, and that is obviously then not good,” said Klopp. “The performance was just not good enough.
“It was well deserved to lose because they won pretty much all the decisive battles. We had too many situations where we should have won the ball but we didn’t. Defending-wise it was just not good enough.”
The game began brightly for Liverpool with Joe Gomez, who has never scored for Liverpool in 188 games, flicking a Cody Gakpo cross on to the crossbar. Díaz turned Mikkel Desler inside out twice to win a free-kick before his knockdown of Gomez’s cross resulted in Mac Allister’s volley being deflected over, with the goalkeeper Guillaume Restes’ parrying Ben Doak’s shot.
But Toulouse gave Liverpool a warning they did not heed when Gabriel Suazo slid in at the far post to deflect Niklas Schmidt’s cross wide. On 36 minutes Tsimikas was sloppy in possession and robbed by Donnum, who raced into the penalty area to beat Caoimhin Kelleher via a deflection off Quansah’s leg.
The Liverpool midfielder Wataru Endo, who had already been booked, was lucky to escape with a lunge on Cásseres but he was not so fortunate in surviving the half-time cull – and neither was Tsimikas. Dominik Szoboszlai and Trent Alexander-Arnold were their replacements, with the unfortunate Doak making way for Mohamed Salah.
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Toulouse immediately exposed the space behind the newly introduced Trent Alexander-Arnold, as Gomez had switched to left-back, with Suazo breaking forward and cutting inside Quansah before rolling a shot wide of the far post.
Thijs Dallinga’s movement then got the better of Joël Matip on 58 minutes when Díaz lost the ball on the left wing, running in behind to collect Suazo’s cross with his first touch and fire past Kelleher with his second.
Liverpool pulled a goal back they barely deserved in fortuitous fashion in the 74th minute when Gomez’s looping header towards the far post was turned into his own net by Cásseres.
But that luck was short-lived as almost instantly Frank Magri converted Suazo’s cross. Although Jota’s weaving run and shot set up Quansah’s moment in the spotlight late on, the technology denied the young centre-back.