Preview: Liverpool vs Southampton
While fans will be buoyed to see their team triumph in midweek, attention must now be quickly switched to the league.
Indeed, standing between the Reds 6th successive league win is a determined Saints side. Ahead of Southampton’s visit to Anfield, let us take a look at the important bits that could shape the game.
Tuesday night’s thrilling 3-2 win against PSG was a testament of Liverpool’s ability to take on the best of what Europe had to offer. Saturday’s game against Southampton though marks a different kind of challenge. Instead of a battle of pure ability, it may boil down to the grit of both teams. After all, Liverpool have historically done poorly after Champions League games. In fact, Press Association Sport revealed that the Reds were the worst performing team among the ‘Big Six’, averaging 1.42 points after their European matches in their last 5 seasons.
For the casual onlookers, it’s easy for them to pinpoint the reason. With the team instructed to press aggressively, it’s little wonder the players looked tired in their post-European league games. Those lethargic games cost the Reds on many occasions last season, where they were held to draws by Newcastle, Burnley, and the relegated Stoke.
So while the game may look straightforward on paper, the truth is anything but easy. Liverpool’s newfound mental strength will do well against stubborn opponents, as do a couple of fresh legs to do the pressing. Speaking of rotations, it brings us nicely to the next point.
Who’s In, Who’s Out?
Klopp is no stranger to rotations, with him time and again swapping players between games to keep their legs fresh. And after the PSG game, there’ll no doubt be many aching limbs that will be in need of a break.
Just who, however, is going to make way?
For me, the obvious candidate would be James Milner. At 32 years of age, the Yorkshire has been putting in superhuman efforts in all of his matches. Against Tottenham last week, he outran everyone by clocking 12.9 km in total. That was followed by his astounding display versus PSG, where he was all over the park. Though it seems there’s no limit to Milner’s fitness, there’s right to be cautious by managing his game time. For a player of his age, a break would do more good than harm, though I’ve an inkling he’ll play a part one way or another.
Besides Milner, players like Salah and Henderson could benefit from a rest, with the former looking lethargic and the latter coming off the back of an intense World Cup. This would afford chances to the likes of Shaqiri, Keita or Fabinho, who’ve been waiting patiently by the sidelines for their chances.
With a much bigger squad to work with, Klopp will have an easier time rotating his team. Hopefully, an injection of fitness to the starting XI will just do the trick against the Saints.
Saints’ Mentality Issue
Going back to that PSG game, Liverpool were holding a 2-0 lead before PSG somehow made it 2-2. The Liverpool of old would’ve probably ended the game with that scoreline, or even go on to lose the game. The current side was having none of it though, where they still look the more likely side to score heading into stoppage time. And they did just that when Firmino’s precise shot into the far corner secured victory for the Reds.
While Liverpool may have found their inner steel to see through games, the same can’t be said about their opponents on Saturday. Southampton found themselves in a similar 2-0 lead against Brighton, only to eventually draw 2-2 after Glen Murray’s late penalty. This was following their 2-1 loss to Leicester, which saw them lead 1-0 at one point of the game.
Speaking after the game, Saints midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg slammed his side for their inability to hold on to wins. A frustrated Hojbjerg said:”It is a mental problem. It is a weakness. We need to look at it and we need to be better.”
Having dropped 13 points from winning positons since Mark Hughes was appointed manager in March, it’s unlikely Southampton’s problems will go away anytime soon. And that’ll spell trouble against a Liverpool side that’s prepared to do whatever it takes to win games.
So even if Southampton do somehow take an early lead, there’s plenty of time for Liverpool to stage a comeback. Especially a Liverpool side that has learnt the art of winning ugly.