10 February 2018

Liverpool at Southampton 02.11.18

11:30am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports

Last four head-to-head:
3-0 Liverpool (h) 11.18.17
0-0 (h) 05.07.17
0-1 Southampton (h; League Cup) 01.25.17
0-1 Southampton (a; League Cup) 01.11.17

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 2-2 Tottenham (h); 3-0 Huddersfield (a); 2-3 West Brom (h)
Southampton: 3-2 West Brom (a); 1-1 Brighton (h); 1-0 Watford (h)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Salah 21; Firmino 11; Coutinho 7; Mané 6; Oxlade-Chamberlain 3; Can, Sturridge 2; Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Klavan, Lovren, Matip, Wijnaldum 1
Tottenham: Austin 6; Davis, Gabbiadini, Tadic, Ward-Prowse 3; Boufal, Stephens, Yoshida 2; Lemina, Long, Romeu 1

Referee: Michael Oliver (LFC History) (WhoScored)

Guess at a line-up:
Trent A-A Matip van Dijk Robertson
Alex O-C Can Wijnaldum
Salah Firmino Mané

Let's start with the defense. Which wasn't actually that bad last week!

Both Klavan and Moreno are back, but I highly doubt either will start. Gomez remains injured, so it has to be Alexander-Arnold at right-back.

It is probably dangerous to play both Lovren and van Dijk away at Southampton. Especially Lovren, who had to be hauled off on the trip there in 2015-16, although he was a lot better – in a far less attacking Southampton performance – last season. But Lovren and van Dijk actually looked a decent pairing last weekend. Yes, even considering that each made a mistake leading to one of Tottenham's still-incredibly-soft penalties. But I still suspect we'll get Matip and van Dijk.

Of course, at least one more former Saint will be involved in Sadio Mané, although Lallana will only be fit enough for the bench. Mané, Firmino, and Salah will be the front three, again, rotation prior to Porto almost certainly be damned.

And then there's the midfield. If possible, Jordan Henderson will probably be rested, which probably means a midfield of Can, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Wijnaldum given that Milner's started the previous two; he's only started three or more consecutive matches once this season. Plus, Can's suspended for the first leg against Porto due to yellow card accumulation, so Henderson has to start in that match.

The "pressing-running midfield," which the above seems to be, wouldn't be my choice for a match where Liverpool will run up against a deep defense – this is what I would've started against Tottenham, and the Tottenham midfield in this – but this is where we are rotation- and fitness-wise and Klopp assuredly knows more than I do. Also, Oxlade-Chamberlain starting would give us three ex-Southampton players in the starting XI. It's hilarious that three seems the minimum, and that we could get up to five.

Maybe we'll get the 4-2-2-2/4-4-2 formation we saw in some of the away matches against deep defenses a few ago – basically the same front six as above, but with Salah central and Mané and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flanks, but it has been a while seen we've seen similar. I wouldn't be opposed, mind.

Meanwhile, Southampton, in 15th and only two points above the relegation places, have actually been *better* lately. They're unbeaten since January 2, with three wins and three draws since. All three wins were by a solitary goal, although two were in the FA Cup. The three draws came at Watford, against Tottenham (ugh), and against Brighton. So, yeah, aside from Tottenham, it's not been a murderer's row. But they've still been far better results than what Southampton were on the last time these sides spoke.

And it's also not as if form counts for all that much when facing Liverpool *glares at West Brom, Swansea*. At least it counts for a little more than previous seasons?

With top scorer Charlie Auston still out injured – and he's Southampton's only missing player – my best guess is the same XI which won 3-2 at West Brom last week. McCarthy; Soares, Stephens, Hoedt, Bertrand; Romeu, Lemina; Ward-Prowse, Tadic, Boufal; Carrillo.

Maybe Long up front, maybe Davis or Højbjerg as a more defensive #10, maybe Redmond on the flank. But, otherwise, Southampton's been fairly consistent with their XIs, and almost always in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

It will be a slightly different side that the one Liverpool faced in November. Guido Carrillo was Southampton's big winter signing from Monaco for about a quarter of the van Dijk money. Alex McCarthy has rightly taken over for Frasier Forster in goal. Lemina's become almost ever-present in midfield, and, obviously van Dijk plays for a different team now.

But they will still be Southampton. Not quite as secure defensively as in recent seasons, but getting better. About league average in both xG For and Against, and slightly underperforming both. They – like numerous other sides – will almost certainly attempt to restrict Liverpool in their half and hope for an opportunity or two on the counter or set plays.

Liverpool dealt with it well last time, for the first time against Southampton after five consecutive disappointments and four consecutive meetings without scoring. Salah scored twice in the first half, and all of the front five were heavily involved in the attack. Including – sigh, gulp – a goal and assist from Philippe Coutinho.

But, yes, we haven't truly seen a comprehensive attacking performance since Coutinho's exit; it's hard to count a ten minute burst against Manchester City given how they attempted to play Liverpool. We've seen two goals against Leicester, Burnley, Everton, West Brom, and Tottenham – three in a row finishing 2-1, all three narrow and worrisome, then 2-3 and 2-2 – no goals at Swansea, and three at Huddersfield.

Huddersfield is hopefully the template. The template to be surpassed. Liverpool were not at their most prolific. Huddersfield sat deeper and had less ambition than almost any side Liverpool have faced this season, and almost certainly less than Southampton will show tomorrow. But Liverpool worked and scored and scored again and scored again and held the opposition to absolutely nothing and were comfortable by halftime.

And Liverpool need a result. Liverpool need a win, ideally a 3-0 cruise as against Huddersfield. Not only for top four, tightened again today with Tottenham's win over Arsenal but also to set the side in good side for Wednesday's trip to Porto. We're in the meat of the season now. The tipping point. And Liverpool need to smash their way through it.

No comments :