By Daniel Moxon – @dmoxon_
After midweek success in the UEFA Super Cup, Liverpool return to domestic action with a trip to the south coast to face established Premier League side and unofficial feeder club Southampton.
The pair face-off on Saturday at 3pm, which is not ideal for the travelling Reds. Chelsea took them all the way to penalties in Istanbul, including a period of extra time that was not welcomed or wanted by either side.
Jurgen Klopp’s side only arrived back on Merseyside on Thursday and had a day-and-a-half to prepare for this one. In contrast, the Saints have had a full week of training focused on the upcoming clash.
While Liverpool should still have enough in the tank to beat Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side, their lack of rest and preparation does make their job tougher. Victory is still essential if they don’t want to lose ground to Manchester City in this early stage of the new season.
The Reds a successful if unspectacular start to the campaign. A 4-1 victory over Norwich City on the opening day looks great on paper, but the performance wasn’t quite there and a better team would have exposed the issues more.
But thankfully, the Reds had a secret weapon. Roberto Firmino was rested from the start with this Southampton game in mind, but came on at half time to try to give his side more coherence going forward.
It took him only four minutes to have an effect, when he teed up Sadio Mané for a simple equaliser. The pair would combine again in extra time, as a well-worked move was rounded off by a sublime finish off the crossbar from the Senegalese – once again assisted by his Brazilian mate.
The performances in both matches were lacking, but the right result was achieved at the end of both and, considering the circumstances, a similar situation after this weekend would be very much welcomed by all connected to the Anfield club.
The Saints have only played one competitive game so far this term, and it’s one they will be wanting to forget as swiftly as possible. Their trip up north to Turf Moor on opening weekend was a disaster.
That abject 3-0 defeat to Burnley was arguably the worst performance since Hasenhuttl took over last December. Liverpool are always going to be the favourites, but the Austrian will be hoping that the energy-sapping extra time in midweek will give his side the edge and a chance to kick-start their season.
The hosts have no injury worries in this early stage of the campaign, so the only changes that might be made to their lineup will come from poor performances last time out.
Goalkeeper Angus Gunn is expected to keep his place, as are the back five of Yann Valery, Jan Bednarek, Jack Stephens, Jannik Vestergaard and Ryan Bertrand.
Oriol Romeu and James Ward-Prowse will also likely start again, though this time Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg could be added to bring more stability and bodies to the centre of the park.
Former Liverpool man Danny Ings will probably get the nod up front, with either Nathan Redmond in behind him or new signing Che Adams there to complete a strike partnership that promises goals this season.
For the visitors, Adrián was due to keep his place in goal as Alisson remains sidelined with the calf injury sustained against Norwich. The Spaniard was the penalties hero in Istanbul and has enjoyed a positive – and unexpected – start to life on Merseyside.
However, a tackle from a celebrating fan resulted in an ankle injury. He could still feature, but if he cannot then 35-year-old Andy Lonergan could be in line for an unlikely Premier League appearance.
The other two injury concerns are Nathaniel Clyne and Naby Keita. The Englishman is a long-term absentee with ACL damage, while the latter hobbled out of training prior to the Super Cup game with a muscle complaint. He is unlikely to return for this one.
Fabinho played every minute of the last two outings and so will likely be rested at St Mary’s. The rested Georginio Wijnaldum could come in for him, while Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain could start alongside him after being substituted at half time in Turkey.
Sadio Mané was also withdrawn with this one in mind so should start, so we could see him, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino reunited as an attacking trio for the first time this season.
Trent Alexander-Arnold will also return to the starting XI, With Joel Matip and Joe Gomez vying for a starting spot alongside Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the defence. The Englishman’s poor showing could mean it’s the former who is given the green light on the south coast.
Despite the less-than-ideal extra 30 minutes played in midweek, the Reds should have enough in the tank to win this one. Some players were rested, while others didn’t play the full game to keep them as fresh as possible.
Firmino is the only one of the front three yet to register a goal, but already has three assists to his name and has started the new season in great form. He will be key once again to Liverpool’s fortunes, and I back him to break his scoring duck on Saturday.
A tired Reds team could concede a goal on the day, but I believe they have more than enough to see off the challenge that Southampton will bring.
Predicted scoreline: Southampton 1-3 Liverpool.