By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome Southampton to Anfield this time out in the hope of winning their seventh game on the bounce and continue the perfect start to the league. Liverpool have had an incredible start to the season, after beating both Tottenham Hotspur and PSG, confidence will be running high and a victory should be expected from the squad.
Southampton, who narrowly avoided relegation last season, have seen their poor form continue into the season, averaging a point per game, all of which have come in the past three games.
A number of big money signings failed to find form, with only Danny Ings putting in performances worthy of his future price tag. Mark Hughes’ men squandered a two goal lead last time out, against south-coast rivals Brighton. An impressive victory at Crystal Palace is the only high-note of what has been a sub-par start.
As stated before, Liverpool have had their best start to the league in recent memory. Victories at tough grounds to visit as well as a few at home which before this season would have ended in points being dropped. The defence and midfield have been incredible this season, with players now fighting for their starting spot after the summer acquisitions.
James Milner looks a man reborn, despite his age of 32, he was the best player on the pitch against a PSG side with 400m worth of firepower. Gini Wijnaldum looks a man possessed every time he takes to the turf, with the return of fellow Dutchman Pep Lijnders appearing to be doing him the world of good.
Southampton have had an underwhelming start to the season, failing to impress in four of their five games. Having only scored six, half of which were by Liverpool loanee Danny Ings. Southampton could struggle to make chances to test Allison Becker, something that has been a regular occurrence this season.
After out-playing PSG at Anfield on Tuesday and with many players playing well, Jurgen Klopp and his coaching team will have many difficult decisions for this match, unfortunately for one player a decision should be simple to make.
Mohamed Salah was very poor for a player of his calibre. Yes, he helped Trent defensively on more than one occasion, sacrificing himself for the team. Sadly, on a personal level he did nothing of note. He dribbled into dead-ends and gave the ball away countless times, one of which led to Mbappe’s late equaliser. Xherdan Shaqiri should replace the Egyptian after impressing in his late cameo, winning the corner which would eventually lead Bobby Firmino’s incredible winner.
With a cup tie during the week, Klopp has the option to rest key players mid-week meaning many players who started on Tuesday will start on Saturday. One thing I would change will be the inclusion of Naby Keita who will give our midfield a creative side against a low-block side. Despite Dejan Lovren returning to full training, Joe Gomez should remain partnered next to Virgil van Dijk.
Southampton are without top scorer Danny Ings due to him being ineligible to face his parent club. Shane Long will start as a direct replacement for the English striker, offering many of the same qualities as the ex-Liverpool player. Nathan Redmond, James Ward Prowse and new signing Mohamed Elyounoussi will support the Irishman.
Mario Lemina and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who has two goals in his last two games, will protect the back four consisting of Cedric Soares, Wesley Hoedt, Jannik Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand. With Hoedt and new-boy Vestergaard failing to show any sign of defensive resilience, not only could Mark Hughes find himself on the end of a heavy loss on Saturday, he could also face the prospect of a relegation battle come May.
Danger man- James Ward-Prowse
James Ward Prowse is another highly regarded player who has been promoted from Southampton’s world-renowned youth academy. Playing mostly as an attacking midfielder, the 23-year-old can also fill in on the flanks as well as a deep lying midfielder. When he first broke through the first team, pundits and English supporters regarded him as the next big midfielder after Steven Gerrard retired.
Often known for his powerful shot as well as his dead-ball deliveries which are often second-to-none. Since these comparisons, Ward-Prowse, like many other English talents, has largely failed to make the grade.
Given that I have put him in to play attacking midfield at Anfield, like many other players in his position he will look to find space between midfield and defence and look to play a key pass. Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez will have to be careful not to concede any fouls close to our box.
Give the Englishman a chance from outside the box and he will often find the back of the net. Corners and wide free-kicks shouldn’t pose a problem due to our aerial dominance which has been shown in recent games. If, and that’s a huge if Southampton were to miraculously get something out of the game, James Ward-Prowse set pieces will be were Southampton get their goals from.
Liverpool v European hangover- Last season, of the six league games after we played in Europe, Liverpool only won once, collecting seven points from a possible 18. If we want to challenge for the title, we would need at least double that points tally. Given that Liverpool got very lucky with the group stage draw last season, you would have thought for them to gain a higher number of points. This season, the draw wasn’t as kind coming up against teams who accumulated a total of 90+ points in their respective league, two of which are champions.
Liverpool face Southampton, Manchester City, Cardiff, Fulham, Everton and Manchester United after each of their European nights. I would expect 14 points from those six games. This could well be more if Liverpool beat Napoli and Red Star Belgrade twice and Napoli fail to take points against PSG, meaning Liverpool progress. Liverpool would then have the opportunity to rest players before the two biggest fixtures Liverpool look forward to.
Right pass, right time- So many times, this season, Liverpool’s attacking men have failed to find the final pass, or keep hold of the ball too long. So far it hasn’t punished us due to our brilliance at the back but eventually this season it will cost us. We’ve seen what could almost happen in our last two games, with a referee missing a penalty against Spurs, and Firmino sparing our blushes against PSG.
In both games Liverpool should have been four or five up. Instead, we only had a one goal lead going into the last 10 minutes. This has been quite a nervy score line for Liverpool in the last couple of seasons. I can remember six times in which Liverpool surrendered a two-goal lead, which has resulted in dropped points. It has improved since van Dijk came in, but even he has been part of two matches in which the opposition pegged Liverpool back after being two behind.
Complacency- So often in the past Liverpool have been guilty of showing complacency to teams close to the bottom of the league. Two seasons ago, Liverpool lost six games, all to teams in the lower half of the table.
Last season this dropped to one, with Swansea being the only team to beat us outside of the top six. However, many of those losses were turned to draws, meaning Liverpool still lost precious points. The Reds had 12 draws last season, seven of which were at Anfield. Compare that to our title rivals Manchester City who drew two and lost one- a seven point difference.
While Liverpool remain unbeaten at Anfield in 17 months and having not conceded a goal since February, Liverpool’s home once again has become a fortress, but the Klopp’s men must cut out dropping silly points.
Last five results (all competitions)
11/01/2017 League Cup Southampton 1-0 Liverpool
25/01/2017 League Cup Liverpool 0-1 Southampton
07/05/2017 Premier League Liverpool 0-0 Southampton
18/11/2017 Premier League Liverpool 3-0 Southampton
11/01/2018 Premier League Southampton 0-2 Liverpool
This should be a very routine win for Liverpool, I don’t see Southampton troubling Liverpool at all throughout the 90 minutes. With two great wins against top teams on the bounce confidence should be flowing throw the veins of Jurgen Klopp’s men. With the midfield reaching the standards set by the defence recently, it’s now time for the forwards to catch up.
Given the south coast’s side lack of fire power, Alisson Becker and his defence should have a very easy game, they shouldn’t be tested largely and could well turn up to the game in their best suits and not have to wash them come the final whistle.
Southampton will set up to frustrate Liverpool, but once Liverpool get the first the goals will start flying in. If Liverpool do get into a strong position, Fabinho could get 30 minutes playing time in his locker before starting midweek. Daniel Sturridge could get deserved playing time after an excellent goal-scoring performance midweek.
I think Xherdan Shaqiri will get his first goal, Bobby will get on the score-sheet for the fourth game running and Sturridge will get his 3rd of the season.
Score prediction: Liverpool 3 (Shaqiri, Firmino, Sturridge) – Southampton 0