10 January 2017

Liverpool at Southampton 01.11.17

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

Last four head-to-head:
0-0 (a) 11.19.16
2-3 Southampton (a) 03.20.16
6-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 12.02.15
1-1 (h) 10.25.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-0 Plymouth (h); 2-2 Sunderland (a); 1-0 Manchester City (h)
Southampton: 2-2 Norwich (a); 0-3 Everton (a); 1-2 West Brom (h)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 2-0 Leeds (h); 2-1 Tottenham (h); 3-0 Derby (a); 5-0 Burton Albion (a)
Southampton: 2-0 Arsenal (a); 1-0 Sunderland (h); 2-0 Palace (h)

Goalscorers (all):
Liverpool: Mané 9; Firmino, Lallana, Origi 7; Coutinho, Sturridge 6; Milner 5; Can 3; Lovren, Wijnaldum 2; Henderson, Klavan, Matip, Woodburn 1
Southampton: Austin 9; Rodriguez 4; Redmond, van Dijk 3; Bertrand, Boufal 2; Clasie, Hesketh, Long, Tadic, Ward-Prowse 1

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Klavan Milner
Lallana Can Wijnaldum
Sturridge Origi

It's the League Cup semifinal – which Liverpool are in for the third-straight season, I'll add. This has to be a full-strength side, or nearly so, with Karius likely to start, even though Liverpool travel to Manchester United on Sunday.

Now, "full-strength" remains slightly difficult to pull off. Coutinho and Matip are back in training, but the former will probably be available off the bench at best, while the latter needs a little longer. Henderson's still out. Milner's not 100%, but I assume he'll still start. And *checks watch* Mané's still away with Senegal for a couple of weeks.

If Coutinho's not ready to start – and while it's not out the question, it seems safe to assume – Liverpool continue to have a hole in the front six. My above guess is just playing the six best available players, even though that makes the 4-3-3 a bit more difficult. Because I'm not entirely sure what a front three of Firmino, Sturridge, and Origi looks like. Sturridge or Origi wide? Something of a diamond?

The only other option seems to be someone else in midfield, whether it's one of the kids – Stewart or Ejaria the more likely candidates, I guess – or possibly Lucas or Milner; neither has played there yet this season, but we know they're both capable having done so in the past.

I remain concerned about Can's discipline as the deepest midfielder and Liverpool's shot creation without Coutinho, but those are known, recurring issues that Liverpool are trying to correct and will continue to try to correct.

Meanwhile, it's not the best time for Southampton either. They're winless in their last four matches. They're missing Austin (their top scorer by some distance), Boufal, Targett, and Pied through injury, Jose Fonte won't play after handing in a transfer request last week, and Cedric Soares is questionable. They remain stingy in defense, because Southampton – they're yet to allow a goal in this competition despite playing three Premier League opponents – but only Middlesbrough and Hull have scored fewer league goals. Not that the league record necessarily matters in a cup tie, but the last time Southampton scored more than once in a league match was October 16, a 3-1 home win over Burnley. In the 19 games in all competitions since, they've done it three times: against Inter (2-1, Europa League), at Arsenal (2-0, League Cup), and at Norwich (2-2, FA Cup).

I suspect you remember when these sides met six weeks ago. That was one of the more-than-a-couple of matches where Liverpool's opponent did nothing but defend. Southampton kept everyone in their own half, took just three off-target shots, and literally never looked like scoring. And it worked, holding Liverpool scoreless as well. Holding Liverpool to just two on-target shots from 15 in total. And Liverpool had Coutinho for that match. Which is another reason why I'm "screw it, start with both Sturridge and Origi up top."

Southampton's starting XI, as with Liverpool, seemingly has to be full-strength. Something like Forster; Soares, Yoshida, van Dijk, Bertrand; Højbjerg, Romeu, Davis; Tadic, Long, Redmond. Maybe Jay Rodriguez up top instead of Long; Clasie and/or Ward-Prowse could start in midfield; and it'll be Martina at right-back if Soares is unavailable. It will be, aside from Charlie Austin's absence, typically Southampton.

That this is only the first leg bears repeating. Whatever happens, there will be at least 90 more minutes at Anfield in two weeks.

That said, start as you mean to continue. Liverpool won the first leg semifinal at Stoke last season, and went on to win the tie, albeit on penalties. Liverpool drew the first leg semifinal against Chelsea in 2014-15, and lost the tie after extra time.

Liverpool have yet to win in 2017, held to annoying draws against both Sunderland and Plymouth. This would be a good time to do so.

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