19 March 2016

Liverpool at Southampton 03.20.16

9:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
6-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 12.02.15
1-1 (h) 10.25.15
2-0 Liverpool (a) 02.22.15
2-1 Liverpool (h) 08.17.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 United (a); 2-0 United (h); 2-1 Palace (a)
Southampton: 2-1 Stoke (a); 1-1 Sunderland (h); 0-2 Bournemouth (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Firmino 8; Benteke 7; Coutinho, Milner 5; Lallana, Sturridge 3; Henderson, Ings, Lallana, Origi 2; Allen, Can, Clyne, Skrtel, Toure 1
Southampton: Pelle 8; Long 7; Tadic 5; Mane, van Dijk 3; S Davis, Fonte, Ward-Prose 2; Austin, Martina, Romeu, Yoshida 1

Referee: Roger East

Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Lovren Sakho Clyne
Henderson Can
Lallana Firmino Coutinho

Moreno's injured and Milner suspended after his red card against Crystal Palace. Is Henderson still ill? Does Sturridge, despite only playing for 67 minutes on Thursday and with a week between games before that, need to be rested?

The last time that Liverpool faced Southampton, Liverpool played 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. It's was the only time we've seen a diamond midfield in the starting XI under Klopp. Both Sturridge and Origi played up front, and Liverpool won 6-1. The final scoreline – in cup competition and with three of the six goals coming on the counter in the final 25 minutes with the game long out of Southampton's reach – is a bit misleading, but it still begs the question. Does Liverpool start with the diamond again? Can at the base, Henderson or Allen and Lallana or Coutinho on the sides, Firmino or Coutinho at the apex, Sturridge and Origi up front?

Maybe. But I doubt it. That Liverpool stick with the same 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid we've seen in almost every match over the last month seems more likely. Either Origi or Sturridge up front, the same attacking line of three we saw in both legs against United, Can with either Henderson or Allen in midfield, and the back four that Liverpool pretty much have to use with both Moreno and Milner absent. My suspicion is that Sturridge starts – because he's still that important to Liverpool, he's still Liverpool's best striker (and arguably best player) when on form, and because Origi's pace seems far more useful off the bench – but it's only a suspicion.

What matters, as per usual, is whether Liverpool can create chances and convert said chances, without doing anything stupid in defense. Thankfully, Southampton won't play like the opponents who often frustrate Liverpool – there's no all-hands-on-deck deep defense in that side – but what Southampton does well poses different problems for Liverpool.

They've few injuries to worry about – Charlie Austin's out, along with long-term casualties Rodriguez and Gardos – and both Wanyama and Fonte will return after suspensions. Which means we'll see what's basically Southampton's strongest XI. What's unclear is whether Koeman will decide that's 4-4-2 with both Pelle and Long up front or 4-2-3-1 remains in doubt.

Regardless of formation, Forster will be in goal; Soares, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand will be in defense; and Wanyama and either Clasie or Romeu will be in central midfield. If it's 4-4-2, it's two from Tadic, Mane, Steven Davis, and Ward-Prowse on the flanks with those two strikers; if it's 4-2-3-1, it's three from the aforementioned attacking midfielders with one of the strikers. In the last month, Southampton played 4-4-2 in losses at Chelsea and Stoke, and 4-2-3-1 in the draw against Sunderland; and, surprisingly, 3-4-1-2, in the loss at Bournemouth. I doubt we'll see the latter again.

Either way, Southampton will press feverishly, look to deny Liverpool space in every phase, try to get Mane and Tadic on the ball to dribble and create, try to push play wide in order to cross to Pelle and/or Long. Liverpool – despite the massive defensive improvement we've seen in the last eight matches, where Liverpool have conceded just three goals in those eight matches – Liverpool remain vulnerable to pacy attackers on the counter, crosses, and set plays.

Only two sides have scored more set play goals than Southampton this season, only four sides have scored a higher percentage of goals from set plays than Southampton this season. Liverpool conceded at least one set play goal against three of those four sides: Palace, West Brom, and Norwich. And, of course, Liverpool conceded Southampton's equalizer from a set play in the previous league meeting. And conceded from a cross in the League Cup meeting. With the same player – Sadio Mane – scoring in both matches.

Southampton are currently level on points with Liverpool, albeit having played two more matches. We won't do anything silly like mentioning almost certainly unreachable targets in the league; Liverpool simply need to pick up points. First challenge: pass Southampton. This is just (Just! As if.) another chance – one of only 10 remaining – to improve on Liverpool's sometimes woeful league performances, to pick up necessary points to improve on an embarrassing eighth place.

It certainly doesn't help that this comes before yet another unnecessary international break, where the majority of players will travel around the world to join up with their national teams. You never want to players to leave for an international break with a disappointing performance fresh in the memory. Not when there's still so much to do, and a fair bit to achieve, in the last two months of the season.


felinda gospi said...

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E Coutinho Can said...

Hopefully Flanagan gets to play at leftback. New 3 year contract too!