15 March 2013

Liverpool at Southampton 03.16.13

11am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus

Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.01.12
0-2 Southampton (a) 01.22.05
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.28.04
0-2 Southampton (a) 03.14.04

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 3-2 Tottenham (h); 4-0 Wigan (a); 3-1 Zenit (h)
Southampton: 0-0 Norwich (a); 1-2 QPR (h); 2-4 Newcastle (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 22; Gerrard 8; Sturridge 4; Downing 3; Agger, Enrique, Henderson, Skrtel, Sterling 2; Cole, Coutinho, Johnson, Şahin 1
Southampton: Lambert 12; Puncheon 5; Ramirez, Schneiderlin 4; Rodriguez 3; S Davis, Fonte, Lallana 2; Clyne, Fox 1

Referee: Phil Dowd

Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Carragher Agger Enrique
Gerrard Lucas
Downing Suarez Coutinho

Predicting the Liverpool XI has become a bit boring.

There are still concerns over Reina's fitness, but the back four will be the same as we've seen in the last five league matches. Lucas and Gerrard will start in midfield, as we've seen in the last nine league matches.

The only question is whether Liverpool use three midfielders or four fairly out-and-out attackers. If it's the former, either Allen – still putting off his shoulder surgery – plays in an advanced midfield position or Henderson features on the flank but often tucks inside. Or, Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho, and Downing all keep their places, deploying the same front six that beat both Spurs and Swansea.

The first hour against Tottenham demonstrated both the benefits and liabilities of that all-out attack. Coutinho and Suarez, along with Enrique, linked up for an excellent goal as Liverpool took the game to Tottenham, while Sturridge put the central defenders under pressure and Downing chipped in with an excellent all-around game. But it ended with Lucas and Gerrrad over-run by Tottenham's three-man midfield, with Liverpool behind before bringing on Joe Allen.

However, while Pochettino's side will use a similar 4-2-3-1 formation, Southampton is not Tottenham. If Steve Davis – back from injury, along with Danny Fox – starts as the most advanced midfielder, Southampton will better able to keep possession, but Pochettino is just as likely to use Gaston Ramirez or Adam Lallana behind the striker, both more attacking players. But – and I mean no offense – none of Southampton's midfielders are Dembele, Parker, and Livermore.

That Liverpool are away from Anfield may also come into the equation; both matches with Sturridge, Suarez, Coutinho, and Downing starting were at home. Still, I think the more attacking line-up is more likely, looking to put Southampton under early pressure in search of the crucial early goal, before bringing off Coutinho for one of the two midfielders around the hour mark.

Pochettino's Southampton also use the same formation as Nigel Adkins' Southampton, but with a few twists. In theory, his sides play how Rodgers wants his sides to play: controlling the game through passing, fluidity in the attacking positions, and pressing effectively when out of possession.

Southampton have no injury concerns, with both Davis and Fox available after missing last weekend's match. Their likely XI is Boruc in goal; Clyne or Yoshida at right back; two from Fonte, Hooiveld, and Yoshida at center-back; either Fox or Shaw at left back; Cork and Schneiderlin in midfield; and three from Davis, Ramirez, Lallana, Rodriguez, and Puncheon in attack behind lone striker Rickie Lambert.

Either Yoshida or Clyne will be the more attacking full-back, looking to get forward whenever possible, but that could be dangerous if they're opposite Coutinho – a player Pochettino knows quite well. The front four will switch positions constantly, but Puncheon, Lallana, and Rodriguez – the likely wide players – all prefer to play narrowly, which should provide space for Johnson and Enrique's forays forward. Rickie Lambert remains the top scoring English player in the league with 12 goals, although he's scored just twice in the two months under Pochettino.

Pochettino's first four games were more impressive were than the last three. A 0-0 draw against Everton; a battling, exceptionally close 1-2 loss at United; a 2-2 draw at Wigan (dropping two points to an equalizer in the last minute); and a thorough victory over Manchester City. However, in the last three weeks, Southampton were blown out at Newcastle, lost a 1-0 lead to QPR at home, and only drew at Norwich thanks to Boruc's penalty save in injury time.

Despite letting in four goals at Newcastle, Pochettino's side have been more defensively secure than Adkins'. It's an incredibly small sample size, but Southampton have conceded fewer goals per game under the new manager – which fits with Pochettino's career as a central defender. Unfortunately, they're also scoring fewer, and are subsequently earning fewer points per game, currently just four outside the relegation places and with Wigan having a game in hand.

Pochettino's Southampton have been better against stronger opposition, highlighted by the comprehensive and deserved home win over City. Meanwhile, Liverpool have somehow been both better and worse against inferior opposition. There are the demolitions of Norwich, Swansea, QPR, Sunderland, etc, but it's hard to forget the demoralizing losses to Villa, Stoke, and West Brom.

As usual, it'll probably come down to whether Liverpool can convert its chances. When they do, they almost always win, often handily. Especially if they can convert said chances early in the first half, putting the game out of reach before the opposition can grow in confidence while Liverpool's frustration correspondingly mounts. When they don't convert those chances, sucker punches tend to happen, and then results like 1-3 Villa and 0-2 West Brom happen.

No comments :