It’s the last game for these two sides before the Wold Cup circus takes over football, and it represents a chance for both to end this first phase of the season on a high. It’s been fairly mediocre till now for both teams, but there has been the odd bright spot, and the last three outings for Liverpool have at least all ended in victory (sort of). Southampton’s away day hammering last weekend brought down the curtain on their manager’s reign.
Southampton head to Anfield this Saturday afternoon under new management. After the dismissal of Ralph Hasenhüttl, they have been swift to appoint former Stoke City & Luton Town manager, Nathan Jones. Jones arrives on a three and a half year deal, and takes charge of his first game against the Reds.
The midweek EFL Cup fixture list saw Southampton come through via penalties, eventually seeing off visitors Sheffield Wednesday, 6-5 (after a 1-1 draw in the 90 minutes). The Saints currently sit 18th in the Premier League, on 12 points. The inconsistencies of the league (from 3rd down), mean that a win this weekend could see them jump a number of places, so Jones will be hoping to repeat what Leeds were able to achieve in Liverpool’s last league home game.
Southampton’s league form hasn’t been good, and their 1-4 drubbing at the hands of free spending Newcastle was the final straw for Ralph Hasenhüttl. The form prior to that hadn’t been terrible, with a 1-0 loss away to Palace, a 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal & a 0-1 away victory at local rivals Bournemouth. Nevertheless, the Saints board clearly sees this World Cup break as a good moment to bring in fresh ideas, and after this game Nathan Jones will have an extended period to work with the majority of the squad.
Liverpool take on their final pre World Cup match up, and will want to end on a high. Jurgen Klopp’s worst Premier League week as manager came after an away loss to Nottingham Forest (1-0), and a home defeat to Leeds United (1-2). That seems to have represented rock bottom for the Reds, and the response since then has been pretty good. A strong home win (2-0) against Napoli in the Champions League, was followed by a solid enough 1-0 victory against visitors Tottenham, before the reserves scraped through on penalties (3-2) against Derby County in the EFL cup. That shootout win came after a fairly comfortable 0-0 draw.
The Reds currently sit 8th in the Premier League, and 7 points outside the top 4. They still have a game in hand on Tottenham & Newcastle (who sit 4th & 3rd), so despite a fairly horrid start to the season, there’s certainly reason to believe that Klopp’s men can make up ground.
On the availability front, Southampton have Valentino Livramento, Kyle Walker-Peters and Juan Larios all sidelined for the foreseeable future. The visitors will probably combine a few from those that started in the Sheffield Wednesday & Newcastle games. Gavin Bazunu will start in goal, but it will be a very interesting first starting eleven from Nathan Jones. James Ward-Prowse & Ainsley Maitland-Niles should start in midfield, with Che Adams just ahead in the 10. The back four was almost complete change for Saints last two outings, and the misfiring attacking slots will also be fighting for starting spots.
For the home side, it’s about continuing to claw back lost ground, and Liverpool will go as strong as possible. At the back, Trent Alexander Arnold and Andy Robertson will join Ibrahima Konate and Virgil van Dijk in defence. In midfield we should see Fabinho & Thiago recalled, with either Jordan Henderson or Harvey Elliott completing the midfield three. The 4-3-3 / Diamond system will then field three forwards, with all three senior players starting. Mohamed Salah will take up his RF position, with Darwin Nunez the LF. Through the middle will be Bobby Firmino, in that false 9 / 10 hybrid position.
The Reds should simply have too much, and will want to end the first phase of the season with maximum points. With so much speculation surrounding the clubs sale, surely all the Liverpool players will want to make a strong last impression on the manager. For Saints, it’s about being controlled in their play & finding a system that can reinvigorate a stuttering outfit. The dominance and danger posed by Liverpool should be overwhelming, and Saints’ inability to score freely should see Klopp’s team win.
Player to watch – Mohamed Salah
Liverpool 3 – 0 Southampton