Liverpool's frustrating run continued as they slipped to a 1-0 Premier League defeat against Southampton, handing further impetus to Manchester United and the chasing pack.
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.
Ings' earliest goal of his Premier League career came after Liverpool switched off from a James Ward-Prowse free-kick.
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 were boosted by the return of Thiago Alcantara, yet it was the Spain international's foul that resulted in Southampton's second-minute opener.
Ward-Prowse's clever free-kick caught the visiting defence cold and, with Alisson stranded, Ings delicately lofted in his 50th Premier League goal.
50 - Danny Ings' strike was his 50th in the Premier League (124 apps), with this goal against Liverpool the earliest he's scored in the competition (1:51). Blistering. #SOULIV pic.twitter.com/RfctW9RqHy— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 4, 2021
Making his first Premier League appearance since May 2019, Fraser Forster was beaten by Roberto Firmino moments later, but the Brazil forward 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.
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.
For all Liverpool's dominance, however, Forster did not have a save to make until the 75th minute, as he got down to Mane's scuffed shot.
Jordan Henderson’s last-ditch clearance from Yan Valery’s effort kept Liverpool in the contest late on, but Southampton nevertheless held firm to end a four-match winless run and reduce an emotional Ralph Hasenhuttl to tears of joy at full-time.
What does it mean? Blunt Reds fall flat as Southampton make history
Liverpool mustered 16 attempts, yet only one of those was on target, and for the third game in a row Klopp's team failed to turn their dominance into all three points.
The Reds are just four points clear of Southampton, who are up to sixth, and became the first team in Premier League history to beat all seven winners of the competition in the season following a title win.
Ings only getting better
Since Hasenhuttl took charge of Southampton in December 2018, Ings has been directly involved in 39 Premier League goals, scoring 31 times and providing seven assists.
Ings endured an injury hit spell at Anfield but came back to haunt his old club and end a run of four games without a goal.
Trials and tribulations for Trent
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been a pivotal part of Liverpool's success under Klopp but turned in a display to forget on the south coast.
Having failed to deal with Ward-Prowse’s delivery for Ings' winner, the full-back gave away possession on 38 occasions – 10 more times than any other Liverpool player – before he was taken off after 77 minutes.
Key Opta facts
- Liverpool have failed to score in back-to-back Premier League games for the first time since May 2018, having found the net in each of their 21 previous league games.
- After having eight shots on target in their 7-0 victory over Crystal Palace, Liverpool have mustered just seven attempts on target across their past three winless Premier League matches.
- Ward-Prowse has provided four assists in the Premier League this season – only in 2014-15 (six) did the England international supply more in a single top-flight campaign.
- Forster kept his first Premier League clean sheet since October 2017. This was his 13th appearance in the competition since that shutout in a 1-0 win over West Brom.
Liverpool were thrashed 7-2 at Aston Villa earlier in the season, and Klopp's side will be out for vengeance at Villa Park in the FA Cup on Friday. Southampton host Shrewsbury Town a day later.