24 October 2015

Liverpool v Southampton 10.25.15

12:15pm ET, live in the US on NBC (stupid UK Daylight Saving Time)

Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (a) 02.22.15
2-1 Liverpool (h) 08.17.14
3-0 Liverpool (a) 03.01.14
0-1 Southampton (h) 09.21.13

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Kazan (h); 0-0 Tottenham (a); 1-1 Everton (a)
Southampton: 2-2 Leicester (h); 3-1 Chelsea (a); 3-1 Swansea (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke, Ings, Sturridge 2; Coutinho, Milner 1
Southampton: Pelle 5; Tadic 3; Mane, van Dijk 2; S Davis, Fonte, Long 1

Referee: Andre Marriner

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Sakho Moreno
Milner Lucas Can
Lallana Coutinho

Is Benteke or Firmino fit enough to start up front, as Sturridge almost certainly isn't even fit enough to be in the squad? And will Liverpool make any other alterations to the XI we've seen in the last two matches?

Playing a pretty much unchanged team against Southampton a week after draining contests versus Tottenham and Kazan is admittedly asking for trouble. But Liverpool still don't have a lot of options. Chances are, we see the same XI which faced Tottenham but with Benteke in place of Origi, and a bit less full-throttle pressing.

With both Benteke and Firmino available, Klopp's "preferred" 4-2-3-1 seems more of an option. Two from Can, Milner, Lucas, and Allen in midfield; three from Coutinho, Lallana, Firmino, and Milner in attack; Benteke or Origi up front. Or maybe Klopp starts two up front: Benteke and Firmino or Benteke and Origi. The latter option seems far less likely; one of those players will be needed as break-glass-in-case-of-emergency on the bench and two of the three are just back from injury.

I suspect that, ideally, Liverpool will try to play this match similarly to the 2-0 win at Southampton last March. It'll be a different formation and a fairly different XI, but the ideas will be the same. Guns blazing from the opening whistle, look for an early goal to upset Southampton's plans, then shell shell shell. And Liverpool will very much have to shell – at times at best, for long stretches at worst – hoping that the defense continues to improve as it did against Tottenham and Kazan.

Last season, Southampton was built upon defense. Only Chelsea allowed fewer goals than Southampton's 33, which was 15 fewer than the Liverpool side which finished one place above them.

It's been a little bit different so far this season. Southampton have already conceded 12, two more than Liverpool. But they've been just a wee bit better up front.

In all competitions, Southampton have scored more goals in the last four matches (14) than Liverpool have scored all season (12). A 6-0 league cup win at MK Dons, 3-1 wins against Chelsea and Swansea, and a 2-2 draw against Leicester. I doubt I need remind that Liverpool have scored more than one goal in just one match this season. Southampton's top two scorers – Pelle and Tadic – have the same number of league goals as Liverpool in total. Only City, West Ham, Leicester, and Arsenal have scored more in the league than Southampton this season.

Stekelenburg and Jay Rodriguez are questionable – the former likely to return, the latter probably protected and on the bench due to his long-standing battle with injuries – while Long, Gardos, and Forster are definitely out. Which means a likely XI of Stekelenburg; Soares, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand; Wanyama, S Davis; Mane, Ward-Prowse, Tadic; Pelle. The same side, except for the returning Stekelenburg, which drew Leicester six days ago, with Southampton allowed a full recovery without a midweek match in the meantime.

Clasie and Romeu are options in midfield if Koeman wants a bit more solidity, with Davis capable of playing in the line of three or off the bench, while there's a reasonable chance we see Juanmi up front off the bench, but those seem the only other options.

Southampton have a settled side, a settled style, and a settled formation. Unlike their opponents, at least so far. And it'll look a lot like the style that Liverpool faced six days ago.

Immediately after promotion, Southampton became one of Liverpool's most difficult opponents, winning three consecutive meetings. Since then – since Liverpool began pillaging Southampton's squad – Liverpool have won three straight, by a 7-1 margin, the lone goal scored by now-Liverpool-player Nat Clyne.

But all of those matches have been closer than the score suggests, overmatched for long stretches both times at Southampton but resilient in defense and potent when given the chance. Those two traits have often eluded Liverpool over the last 16 months, and the inability to consistently demonstrate those traits eventually cost Brendan Rodgers his job.

Liverpool will assuredly need to be both of those things tomorrow.

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