01 December 2015

Liverpool at Southampton 12.02.15

2:45pm ET, live in the US on BeIN Sports

Last four head-to-head:
1-1 (h) 10.25.15
2-0 Liverpool (a) 02.22.15
2-1 Liverpool (h) 08.17.14
3-0 Liverpool (a) 03.01.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 Swansea (h); 2-1 Bordeaux (h); 4-1 City (a)
Southampton: 1-3 City (a); 0-1 Stoke (h); 1-0 Southampton (h)

Previous Rounds:
Liverpool: 1-0 Bournemouth (h); 1-1 Carlisle aet [3-2 pens] (h)
Southampton: 2-1 Villa (h); 6-0 MK Dons (a)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Benteke, Coutinho 5; Ings, Milner 3; Lallana, Sturridge 2; Can, Clyne, Ibe, Firmino, Skrtel 1
Southampton: Pelle 9; Mane 6; Long 5; Tadic 4; Rodriguez 3; S Davis, van Dijk 2; Fonte, Yoshida 1

Referee: Robert Madley

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Skrtel Lovren Moreno
Milner Lucas Can
Ibe Benteke Lallana

Henderson and Sturridge will travel, while Coutinho could also be available, but none are likely to start. As Klopp said, it's too soon to risk Henderson and Sturridge after their long absences; 90 minutes would be questionable, so 120 potential minutes are out of the question. And since Coutinho hasn't yet fully trained – maybe today! – I assume he's in the same situation, at best. I suspect we'll see at least two off the bench tomorrow, though.

So, otherwise, the same old cup fixture debate. It'll be a strong line-up, but one or two seemingly need to be rested. Who will it be? Firmino, subpar on Sunday, appears to be a prime candidate. Possibly Benteke, in a similar situation. But Liverpool remain better equipped to cope with the former's absence, especially since Sturridge isn't ready to start.

Maybe Liverpool give Origi a first start since the last League Cup match. Maybe Toure replaces Skrtel again, as against Bordeaux, or maybe Lovren. Maybe Milner or Can are left out in favor of Allen. As against Bournemouth, I suspect Bogdan will continue to start the domestic cup contests. Maybe Teixeira and/or Randall, unused in yesterday's under-21 match, feature – they both started in the last round – but participation in that match rules out Enrique, Rossiter, and Brannagan.

Once again, the first-choice fullbacks seemingly have to play. Either Lovren or Skrtel, if not both, have to play. Lucas, fresh off suspension, has to play. Liverpool's injury situation improves by the day, but the side's still not spoilt for choices.

Southampton, on the other hand, have a few more options. Assuming that they start a full-strength XI – although I'm not entirely sure how safe that assumption is – the lineup would be Stekelenburg; Soares, Caulker, van Dijk, Bertrand; Wanyama, Clasie; Mane, Davis, Tadic; Pelle. Soares should return to the squad after he was bafflingly left out against City, while Pelle will return from suspension.

That guessed XI, aside from Jose Fonte – who's doubtful after leaving Saturday's match through injury – is the exact team which drew at Liverpool five weeks ago. Aside from Fonte, Jay Rodriguez and Fraser Forster are Southampton's only first-team absentees. They've the option of starting Davis, Ward-Prowse, or Romeu in midfield instead of Wanyama or Clasie; Yoshida instead of either center-back or Soares; Harrison Reed, Ward-Prowse, or even Shane Long in the attacking line of three; Long or Juanmi in place of Pelle. But I still expect the XI to be the above guess.

Southampton have lost the last two matches, a narrow defeat to Stoke and a drubbing at City, but were unbeaten in eight in all competitions prior, a stretch that included the 1-1 draw at Anfield on October 25. As Liverpool did to City, City did to Southampton: a fast start, a defensive mistake, an early goal, the eventual winners never looking back.

When these sides last met, Southampton were in the midst of a hot scoring run, with eight goals in the previous three matches, against Swansea, Chelsea, and Leicester. That's not the case now, with just two goals in their last three: a penalty at Sunderland and a set play header when City's defensive marking utterly failed.

Also unlike when these sides last met, Southampton won't have the advantage of an extra four days rest. They played on Saturday while Liverpool played on Sunday, but the last meeting came after one of those much-decried midweek Europa League matches, while Southampton had a full week between league fixtures. And it led to a much heavier Southampton press, which Liverpool was unable to replicate, which stifled the home side until Benteke finally made the breakthrough in the 77th minute. But Southampton, better able to cope with the pace of the match, were able to respond, Liverpool clearly fatigued both physically and mentally and conceding on a set play in the final five minutes.

Tomorrow's match might be played at a slightly slower pace – well, slower for Southampton and Liverpool – being midweek and League Cup, but it's still Liverpool and Southampton. There will be pressing, there will be neat interplay, there will be quick counters. That Liverpool are away means that Liverpool will have less possession, needing to weather Southampton's inevitable storms, but Liverpool will also have more opportunities to quickly transition into counter-attacks, as they did to outstanding effect against both Chelsea and Manchester City. Like Liverpool, Southampton tend to be better away from home, the conditions, tenor, and tempo better suiting how the side prefers to play.

It's also still a quarterfinal, the point of the competition where clubs truly take the League Cup seriously. The winner of this match, along with Manchester City, will be favorites to make the final at Wembley (assuming the draw keeps the winner and City apart). The league will remain the primary focus for both clubs, and tomorrow's match won't be played at its expense, but a trophy's almost tangible. Go and get it.


drew said...

Other than the dead rubber in the Europa League, can't think of another match this year I'd be less fussed to lose. A two-legged semi potentially against Stoke, Man City, or worse still Everton would be a huge drain and distraction, especially with home league fixtures against Arsenal and United to prep for.

I'm sure Klopp will go for it as he has been, and a cup semifinal won at a tricky away ground is a good statement to make. But even these consecutive matches at Southampton and at Newcastle are a strain, about as far apart as you can get--Bournemouth being neglibly farther from the latter--for consecutive top-tier aways. (This incidentally led me to figuring out the shortest route past all 20 PL grounds, which I'll spare everyone here but suffice to say Norwich mucks up everything.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Nate, an unfair comment but here goes: how many times have you been right (or near enough right) about your predicted starting XI? I ask not as an accusation, but I just had a thought: which manager (Rodgers or Klopp, or indeed maybe even Benitez) was the most predictable in their selections? I will bet Rodgers was the most unpredictable, but I may be wrong.

Not sure what it would reveal, but it strikes me that when you (who I regard as a very informed commentator) suggest that the manager "must" select someone (e.g. he must select Lucas), that opinion comes from a long-term observation. If Lucas is therefore not selected, and the team are a mess in midfield, we might even say it was a silly decision to have not selected him.

Could the predictability of a manager be an indication of the fact they know what they are doing? Or could it show that they simply choose their favourites? Or could it be nothing more than a fun distraction to guess the line-up?

nate said...

It's a fair comment. For the most part, I get better at guessing the XIs the longer a manager's in their job, but there's usually one or two wrong. I'm off by at least two players more often than not. It really is a guessing game and starting point for writing the match preview.

Today for example: correct on seven of 11 starters (including Lucas!), probably wrong on the formation but we'll see. But, somehow, I guessed Southampton's XI exactly correct.

As for Lucas: he *had* to start him because he's the freshest midfielder thanks to Sunday's suspension, not because LFC *needs* him in the XI (although LFC are usually better when he's there).

Predictability mostly comes from experience seeing what the manager does.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response, Nate.

And thanks for the blog, its always my first port of call after a game