24 January 2017

Liverpool v Southampton 01.25.17

Southampton lead 1-0 after the first leg.

3pm ET, live in the US on BeIN Sports

Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Southampton (a; League Cup) 01.11.17
0-0 (a) 11.19.16
2-3 Southampton (a) 03.20.16
6-1 Liverpool (a; League Cup) 12.02.15

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-3 Swansea (h); 1-0 Plymouth (a); 1-1 United (a)
Southampton: 3-0 Leicester (h); 1-0 Norwich (h); 0-1 Burnley (a)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 0-1 Southampton (a); 2-0 Leeds (h); 2-1 Tottenham (h); 3-0 Derby (a); 5-0 Burton Albion (a)
Southampton: 1-0 Liverpool (h); 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 5; Redmond 4; van Dijk 3; Bertrand, Boufal, Long, Tadic, Ward-Prowse 2; Clasie, Hesketh 1

Referee: Martin Atkinson

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Matip Lovren Milner
Lallana Henderson Wijnaldum
Sturridge Firmino Coutinho

If there's going to be a reaction to the failings of the last month, now's absolutely the time for it.

I have seen something like six different personnel suggestions for fixing Liverpool's attack, for how Liverpool should line-up without Sadio Mané and needing to overturn a one-goal deficit. And that's just from different Echo writers.

It should be Sturridge, playing central. It should be Sturridge, playing on the right. It should be Sturridge and Origi. What about Ojo or Woodburn? Can Trent Alexander-Arnold play further forward? What about Milner further forward with Moreno at left-back?

We're all blindly tossing darts at an unmarked board. That's where Liverpool's attack has gotten us of late.

My starting point is that Adam Lallana needs to play in midfield rather than wide right, with Emre Can the most likely to make way. He's been nowhere near as effective in the front three, and Liverpool badly need an effective Lallana.

And if that's the case, it comes down to whether it's Firmino central and Sturridge right or the opposite. I don't think Origi's in the discussion due to form, I don't think two strikers and a diamond midfield is in the discussion either. My belief is Firmino's more important and much, much better when in the middle – literally the only attacker who did anything good on Saturday, almost single-handedly rescuing the game for Liverpool.

So, Coutinho left, Firmino central, and Sturridge on the right, where he's at least capable of cutting inside to shoot on his stronger left foot and has the protection of Lallana and Clyne – better defenders than those on the opposite flank – when he does much less tracking back than anyone else who'd play in that role. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, right, the only time we've seen that front three start a match was 0-2 at Burnley.

Let's hope Liverpool have learned something in the subsequent months.

Otherwise, Joël Matip's finally back, which is no small matter for the defense. Karius will probably keep his place in goal for the cup matches, responsible for keeping this tie at just a 0-1 deficit.

How well Liverpool's attack plays will also have something to do with Southampton's personnel. Specifically, whether or not Virgil Van Dijk is fit.

Van Dijk has owned Liverpool in the last two meetings, in both league and cup. He's the main reason Liverpool have been held scoreless in 180 minutes against Southampton. He picked up an ankle injury in the second half of Saturday's match and seems unlikely to play, but hasn't been completely ruled out. And his possible absence makes Southampton's job even harder considering Jose Fonte's recent exodus to West Ham in search of one last big pay day.

Austin, Boufal, Hesketh, and Targett are definitely out. Steven Davis, who's missed all three matches since the last meeting, is – like van Dijk – doubtful.

So let's guess an XI of Forster; Soares, Yoshida, Stephens, Bertrand; Ward-Prowse, Romeu, Clasie; Redmond, Rodriguez, Tadic. Højbjerg and Harrison Reed are other options in midfield. Shane Long could start up front instead of Rodriguez; both are scoring goals lately.

Southampton, still struggling with the aforementioned injuries, have improved since the win over Liverpool two weeks ago. Coming into that fixture, they were winless in four, including three successive league losses. They proceeded to lose the next match, 1-0 at Burnley (not naming names, but better than some sides have done at Burnley), but beat Norwich in a replay with a much-changed XI then housed Leicester over the weekend, scoring three goals in a match for only the fifth time this season in all competitions and the first time in a little over a month.

Chances are that this match looks a lot more like the league meeting than the last leg. A lot of teams have sat deep and solely defended at Anfield. That was probably the most defensive of any of them, regardless of Klopp's comments post-Sunderland.

And it worked to perfection, not only holding Liverpool scoreless but severely limiting Liverpool's shots and shots on-target. And that was with a front three of Coutinho, Firmino, and Mané.

All Southampton need to do is hold Liverpool scoreless. But Liverpool need to hold Southampton scoreless as well. Away goals only count after extra time, but they still count after extra-time. A one-goal Liverpool lead, no matter the score line, gets us 30 more minutes of football, but if it's anything other than 1-0, Southampton win without penalties.

I remain concerned about Liverpool's ability to score two or more, to get or maintain a two-goal lead. And, considering where we were two months ago, that remains an amazing statement.

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