18 November 2016

Liverpool at Southampton 11.19.16

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
2-3 Southampton (a) 03.20.16
6-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 12.02.15
1-1 (h) 10.25.15
2-0 Liverpool (a) 02.22.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 6-1 Watford (h); 4-2 Palace (a); 2-1 Tottenham (h)
Southampton: 1-2 Hull (a); 2-1 Inter Milan (h); 0-2 Chelsea (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Mané 6; Coutinho, Firmino 5; Milner 4; Lallana 3; Can, Lovren 2; Henderson, Matip, WIjnaldum 1
Southampton: Austin 5; Redmond 3; Rodriguez, Tadic, Ward-Prowse 1

Referee: Mark Clattenburg

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Can Henderson Wijnaldum
Mané Sturridge Firmino

Well, I guess that international break *could've* been worse. At least as far as football goes.

But, of course, injuries happen. At least they're minor? Because they happened to major players.

Both Coutinho and Lallana appear to be out. Lallana picked up a minor groin injury in England's friendly on Tuesday, just minutes after scoring. Coutinho traveled halfway around the world, played 165 minutes in Brazil's two matches, and then supposedly needed an MRI scan yesterday, although the club's said nothing about it.

So let's assume both Coutinho and Lallana will be absent, at least from the starting XI. Which will be a massive loss, considering they've been two of Liverpool's best players this season, although we remain spoilt for choice. Liverpool do appear to have two obvious replacements: Wijnaldum for Lallana and Sturridge for Coutinho, with Firmino moving out to the left. That's the same front three we saw in Liverpool's 4-1 shellacking of Leicester, but also in the 0-0 against Manchester United – the match Liverpool were held to season lows in shots and xG and just one of two matches where Liverpool were held scoreless.

Incidentally, those were the last two matches to follow international breaks. Even if Coutinho is/were fit, he probably won't/wouldn't start.

There is another alternative. Liverpool notably played a 4-Diamond-2 in the 6-1 win at Southampton in the League Cup last season. And you can make that work for the players available tomorrow – something like Henderson at the base of the diamond, Mané at the apex, Can and Wijnaldum as the shuttlers, two from Sturridge, Firmino, and Origi up front. However, that was the League Cup, with Klopp still experimenting with his new-ish club. That was before Liverpool signed Mané, Wijnaldum, etc. That was before Liverpool settled on the formation we've seen in every match this season. And a diamond midfield would move Mané deeper, behind rather than alongside the strikers, as well as put him in Romeu's zone. Oriol Romeu has been one of the better holding midfielders in the league this season.

I suspect, as I always suspect, that Liverpool will dance with what brung them, replacing missing starters with players who aren't necessarily like-for-like, but can be damned fine players in their own right.

At least there aren't any concerns in defense. Of course, I've written that before and then Lovren's gotten pink eye or the flu and we get Lucas or Klavan, but there's no suggestion of that right now.

Meanwhile, Southampton. Liverpool's frequent feeder club, and frequently Liverpool's bane, twice coming back from a deficit in last season's league meetings, earning a draw at Anfield and win at St. Mary's.

As usual for Southampton, it's been a season of change. Key players sold, a manager departing for a "bigger" club. Winless in their first four matches under Claude Puel, they then went on a six-match unbeaten streak in the league, highlighted by a 1-1 draw against Manchester City, before losing their last two against Chelsea and Hull. All told, Southampton have been much better at home, the lone loss coming to a red hot Chelsea three weeks ago.

Sometimes 4-3-3, sometimes 4-Diamond-2, they've been adaptable. They've been typically Southampton, replacing multiple losses with academy graduates and a couple of astute signings. Puel is a pragmatic manager, and one who's foiled Liverpool in the past, albeit seven years ago as manager of Lyon.

Southampton have struggled to score, even in victories – only six sides have scored fewer goals, and only Austin and Redmond have tallied more than once in the league – but they remain quite good in defense, with just four sides conceding fewer goals: Tottenham, Chelsea, City, and Arsenal. If Southampton play 4-3-3, which seems more likely, it's going to be a big day for Milner, up against either the pace and threat of Nathan Redmond or the guile of Dusan Tadic, with Southampton's "wingers" capable of switch flanks throughout.

Tomorrow's XI will likely be Forster; Soares, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand; Clasie, Romeu, Davis; Redmond, Austin, Tadic. Long, Targett, and Reed are out injured, while Forster, Bertrand, and Tadic all dealt with issues during the international break but are likely to play. Ward-Prowse is an option in midfield, in place of either Clasie or Davis, while Southampton's record signing, Sofiane Boufal, is yet to start a league match but could play on either flank in attack.

As has become usual, at least for me, this match is once again about defeating Liverpool's past demons. Liverpool have often stuttered after international breaks, at least in previous seasons; this year, they've won one (handily) and drawn the other. And playing away is far tougher than playing at home after an international break. Liverpool have often stuttered when missing key players, at least in previous seasons. And, most notably, Liverpool threw points away against Southampton in both games last season; 1-1 at Anfield in Klopp's first home match was regrettable, but it happens. Neither side really deserved to win that match. But conceding three at Southampton in March despite a two-goal halftime lead, twice conceding in the final ten minutes to finish off Southampton's unlikely comeback, is a bit bigger blot.

So far, with the exception of one, maybe two matches, this has been a very different Liverpool, a Liverpool that currently sits atop the table, and a Liverpool that's mostly succeeded where they've failed in the past. That'll need to be the case tomorrow as well.

Next one up, as it's been all season long. No matter the setbacks and absentees, Liverpool need to keep doing Liverpool.

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