28 February 2014

Liverpool at Southampton 03.01.14

12:30pm ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Southampton (h) 09.21.13
1-3 Southampton (a) 03.16.13
1-0 Liverpool (h) 12.01.12
0-2 Southampton (a) 01.22.05

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 4-3 Swansea (h); 1-2 Arsenal (a); 3-2 Fulham (a)
Southampton: 1-3 West Ham (a); 0-1 Sunderland (a); 1-0 Hull (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Suarez 23; Sturridge 18; Gerrard 7; Sterling 6; Skrtel 4; Coutinho, Henderson 3; Agger, Flanagan, Moses, Sakho 1
Southampton: Rodriguez 10; Lambert 8; Lallana 7; Fonte, Osvaldo 3; Davis, Lovren 2; Ramirez, Schneiderlin, Yoshida 1

Referee: Lee Probert

Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Skrtel Agger Johnson
Henderson Coutinho
Suarez Sturridge Sterling

If at first it doesn't succeed...? How about if it kind of succeeds?

Once again, it's hard to foresee any changes to Liverpool's XI. Maybe in where they line up, but not who lines up; either fullback can play on either side, the front three could play in almost any of the three positions. Allen was brilliant as a substitute against Swansea, but I still can't see him replacing Henderson, Coutinho, or Sterling in the starting XI.

The question, as it's been for the last month, is how Liverpool's tactics (read: Liverpool's midfield) fare against the opposition. And, of course, whether or not Liverpool's defense will do something stupid. But more so the first question.

Away from home, against a side with the ability to dominate possession, you'd think that Liverpool's midfield would be better, would be less exposed, than against the likes of Stoke, Villa, West Brom, or Swansea. The front three can press, along with either Henderson or Coutinho, the rest of the midfield and defense can play compact and soak up pressure, looking to spring the ever-potent counter-attack rather than feeling the need to take the game to their opponents. However, Southampton's ability to press could throw this off-balance. Gerrard, Coutinho, and (to a lesser extent) Henderson probably won't have the time and space to pick apart the opposition during quick transitions, not like they did against Arsenal or Everton. Southampton's pressing has unbalanced Liverpool's in the last two meetings, which have both ended in two Liverpool losses.

Liverpool have scored 13 goals in the last four league matches, and none of them have come from Luis Suarez, who's currently going through his longest "drought" of the season. Southampton is the only team in the Premier League that Luis Suarez has never scored against. This seems relevant. Someone make sure Luis is aware of this prior to kick-off.

Southampton are currently ninth, locked with Newcastle in a nearly meaningless battle for eighth. Neither will drop enough points to fall into the bottom half of the table, and it seems almost certain that neither will gain enough points to challenge Everton or United for seventh. And Southampton's last three results somewhat support the notion of cruise control: a narrow victory over Hull, a narrow loss at Sunderland in the FA Cup, and a 1-3 loss at West Ham last weekend, demolished by Kevin Nolan et al after Yoshida opened the scoring from a set play. But that certainly doesn't mean Southampton don't have anything to play for. Especially when facing Liverpool, a side they've beaten in the last two meetings.

With Lovren and Ramirez back from extended absences, Southampton's only injury concern is Victor Wanyama, who'll be subject to a late fitness test. But there's a fairly good chance he wouldn't be playing anyway. Like Brendan Rodgers, Pochettino has had a settled XI over the last month, with Lovren likely to be the only player to alter the squad. Boruc; Chambers, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Cork, Schneiderlin; Davis, Lallana, Rodriguez; Lambert. Clyne could start instead of Chambers, Ward-Prowse or Ramirez instead of Davis, but those (along with Wanyama) seem the only possible variations.

Liverpool have been held scoreless in just two league matches this season: an 0-2 loss at Arsenal, and the 0-1 loss to tomorrow's opponent at Anfield in September. Only West Ham, Chelsea, and Arsenal have kept more clean sheets than Southampton this season.

Southampton have handled Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool better than any other side, limiting them to two goals in the last three matches, winning twice under Pochettino and narrowly losing once under Adkins. At times, the two appear mirror images: heavy pressing; intelligent, ball-controlling passing; counter-attack and set play goals. Southampton have done it better than Liverpool the last two times they've faced off.

For the last few months, we've said that this is a different Liverpool. A more resilient Liverpool, a more potent Liverpool. Tomorrow would be a good time to again demonstrate that.


Anonymous said...

Give me Allen in place of Coutinho. Especially with Joe being close to his top form.

In last year's 3-1 loss at Soton, with most of the same players for Saints, Coutinho was the least influential player of the 22 on the field. Fully expect that Allen would have a substantially bigger impact in our midfield. Certainly in terms of ball possession & retention and tackling & pressing. We will certainly need an increased defensive presence, in that midfield and in the final third, away to a good ball playing team. Gerrard is not going to provide it. Saints have the type of players that give Phil trouble. Technically capable and physically tough where Phil is unable to create room with the ball by using his little feints and direction changes. Phil's passing in the final third last year was an abysmal 4/10 and only 16/26 overall. Might be a different year, but they have his number.

Anonymous said...

Th game scares me the most of any this season as we've always been crap at Southampton away going back many many years to Lawrie McMenemy days - don't know why. Happy if there's a midfield of Gerrard, Henderson and Allen. Happy if sneak a 2-1 win but mainly worried. I'll be on Pacific Time and 9.30 is early for me as I like to sleep in on the weekends.

Marque Pierre Sondergaard said...

Every week seems to provide another "I know we have been good lately, but this is a worrying game because of [reasons] fixture." Looking at the league table, this is a must-win. Looking at the statistics, it is certainly not a certain must-win.

Perhaps Coutinho would work, if we can play them like we played Arsenal at home. In many ways, I think Soton and Arsenal have similarities. Will you be able to beat them in midfield? Perhaps not, but as long as you keep them toothless, they can have the ball. For which reason we do need Coutinho's incissive sliderule passes for the breaks.