By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to the south coast to face a Southampton team fighting for survival to stay in the Premier League for an eighth consecutive season.
From now until the end of the season Liverpool will play after Manchester City meaning the onus will be on the Reds to match or better the current champions’ results after each game.
Southampton are starting to put together a string of good from, they have slowly climbed up out of the relegation zone and now sit 16th in the table, five points clear of the relegation zone.
Since Mark Hughes’ sacking, the Saints have won four of their eight games at home – two of those against Arsenal and Tottenham, so they can certainly perform against the bigger teams.
Liverpool passed their last remaining big test of the season in remarkable fashion, a late own goal from Toby Alderweireld proved to be the difference following good work from our full backs.
Of course, all matches in the remaining months are ‘cup finals’ – Tottenham were arguably the biggest threat left, yet there is still a long, long way to go.
Southampton have a excellent record against the top six at home under Ralph Hasenhuttl dubbed the ‘Austrian Jurgen Klopp’ for his similar play style to the Liverpool manager, winning two of their three home games against the top six.
Overall the Austrian has won half of his league games at home, impressive wins against the before mentioned Arsenal and Tottenham proved that they can prove a threat. They were unlucky to lose to both Manchester Clubs, both matches they dominated large parts of the game and dubious referring decisions lost them the game.
Over their most recent four games they have won three, against Fulham, Cardiff and Tottenham. Meaning Southampton have put together their best run of the season, the 3-4-3 formation allows Southampton to press with intelligence.
Tottenham also utilised the 3-4-3 formation from the beginning and it allowed our full backs to venture forward which caused problems. With it being likely that Hasenhuttl will continue to use his preferred tactics, Robertson and Trent should add to their combined tally of 15 assists for the season.
It’s one thing for Liverpool to beat the likes of Fulham and Brighton when playing under par, to do it against a side like Tottenham will have a huge affect on the boys for the remainder of the season and will insert the confidence and belief to finally end the drought for the quest to win the league.
Liverpool started the game quite well against the Lilywhites, dominating the midfield and getting in behind quite easily. It was Roberto Firmino who opened the scoring, heading in low from an Andy Robertson cross- who claimed his ninth assist of the season.
After a tactical tweak via mobile phone from Pochettino, Tottenham grew into the game and started to dominate, chances were falling to Tottenham at an alarming rate, a couple of decisive blocks were keeping Liverpool ahead by the skin of their teeth.
Dominance eventually paid off as a quickly taken fee kick caught Liverpool sleeping and after two further passes, Tottenham equalised through Lucas Moura. After that the chances for kept coming with the turning point being Momo Sissoko’s miss after remarkable defending from van Dijk.
From then Liverpool pressed on and Tottenham dropped further and further back, it was Mo Salah who played a major part in the goal, being alert from a cross out wide and through a mixture of bad goalkeeping a defending the ball rolled into the Kop end net to send Anfield into delirium.
Southampton have a couple of injury concerns of their own. Jannik Vestergaard and Mario Lemina are out muscle strains while Republic of Ireland internationals Shane Long and Michael Obafemi are nursing hamstring and groin injuries respectively.
Angus Gunn has been hugely impressive since replacing Alex McCarthy in goal in early January. The goalkeeper has represented England at every youth level and won Man of the match on his League debut for Southampton, making many vital saves in a 0-0 draw against Chelsea.
Ralph Hasenhuttl has utilised the 3-4-3 formation since he has arrived in England, not only does it allow Ryan Bertrand and the young Yan Valery to surge forward utilising their excellent crossing ability.
It also gives James Ward-Prowse a free role in attacking midfield where he can dictate the play, he has scored two free kicks in three games showcasing his prowess in dead ball situations, something which Liverpool should be wary of at St. Mary’s.
Joining Ward-Prowse up front will likely be Nathan Redmond and Charlie Austin. The defensive minded duo of Oriol Romeu and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg will allow the trio to attack freely without having to worry about defensive duties.
Virgil van Dijk should be available for selection despite picking up an ankle knock whilst defending a 2v1 situation towards the latter stages of the game. The Dutchman declared that he would be fit against his former club during an interview, other than that injury scare Jurgen Klopp should have a fully fit squad to choose from.
The German did suggest however that the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may be further than some have thought despite the fact that he as returned to full training.
Alisson Becker was quite poor against Tottenham, it was probably the goalkeeper’s worst performance since joining the club. His passing was inaccurate and often left us prone to a counter and his shot stopping wasn’t up to his high standards.
Against Southampton, it’s unlikely he will be busy though it would be nice if he weren’t to collide with one of our players on the edge of the box for a third game running.
I would think Dejan Lovren will start against Southampton, Liverpool play Porto in the Champions League the week after and a rest for Joel Matip is overdue and well deserved.
Fabinho should be a main stay in midfield from now until the end of the season, the difference in passing between midfield and attack vastly improved and he won the ball back seven times in 13 minutes, as many as Jordan Henderson in 77. Gini Wijnaldum will slot alongside the Brazilian as Naby Keita makes a welcome return to aid the front three.
A smile is back on the face of Mohamed Salah – the Egyptian was probably the happiest man on Merseyside at the full-time whistle after he was directly involved in the match-winning goal.
The goal may not have been awarded to him, but you could sense a huge weight of expectation was lifted off his shoulders, lets hope now he can kick off and propel to a major honour comes the end of the season.
Last five results
Premier League – 22-09-2018: Liverpool 3-0 Southampton
Premier League – 11-01-2018: Southampton 0-2 Liverpool
Premier League – 18-11-2017: Liverpool 3-0 Southampton
Premier League – 07-05-2017: Liverpool 0-0 Southampton
League Cup – 25-01-2017: Liverpool 0-1 Southampton
The trip to St. Mary’s is always a tough one, the supporters are right on top of the pitch and the crowd usually put in a decent showing when the big boys come to town. With their recent form and the likelihood that their survival for another year is safe, I’m pretty sure the crowd will be well up for it.
Southampton currently sit on 33 points -5 points clear of relegation, with a favourable run in compared to the teams around them, the pressure and intensity may be slightly off on Friday evening. Due to the fact that point will be picked up against the likes of Huddersfield and Newcastle.
It should be quite a routine victory for the Reds’ and this fixture is arguably the final tough match for Liverpool for the remainder of the season. With Keita and Shaqiri both training, it would be an ideal match for one of the two to play a part from the first whistle.
I’m predicting a 2-0 win for the Reds; our defence should be too strong for an inform Southampton attack and without Vestergaard in defence he will have to call upon inexperience to fill in. After somewhat getting a massive weight off his shoulders after his exploits in the 90th minute, hopefully the Egyptian can score a goal that can be awarded to him.
Final score: Southampton 0-2 Liverpool (Firmino, Salah)