Southampton v Liverpool – PL Preview
With the destiny of each competing team now already determined, this 38th fixture offers a game of football without the engulfing pressures of the past season. For very differing reasons, each side will be bitterly disappointed with how their respective campaigns have unfolded, with a mindset to right the wrongs of a long and unsuccessful campaign. The final day of the 2022/23 season will see all twenty teams kick off at 16.30, with one team still able to survive from the three clubs involved in that dreaded relegation battle. The short (and potentially long) term effects of dropping out of the Premier League can often be disastrous, with Saints already making preparations for next year’s battle in the Championship. Everton, Leeds, and Everton fans, will be the groups that will be nail biting their way through the weekend, as the support of the teams still in involved in the war to survive. One set of fans will be rejoicing at 18.30 on Sunday evening, whereas two sets will be taking the bank holiday weekend to drown their sorrows, as they join Southampton in the English second tier.
In the last few days, it has been confirmed that current Saints manager, Ruben Selles, will leave his post, after the visit of Liverpool. Swansea will part ways with their 37-year-old manager, Russell Martin, who will take over at Southampton after Sundays final game. The young Scotsman has a solid (if unspectacular) track record from his time with MK Dons, before his stint at soon to be manager-less Swans. The appointment and the fact that the Welsh club’s season is over (finishing 10th in the Championship), means the former defender could and possibly should be in the Saint Mary’s Stadium stands on Sunday, to view the team he is primed to take over.
In terms of injuries and availability for the home side, Romain Perraud, Liverpool linked Armel Bella-Kotchap, Che Adams, Mohamed Salisu, and Juan Larios, will all be missing for this game through injury. Their last outing saw a comprehensive 3-1 away loss to Brighton ensue, after a 0-2 home defeat to Fulham, with a 4-3 loss away to Nottingham Forest prior to that. The Saints have 24 points from their 37 games played, with 20th position in the division now confirmed as their final resting place.
Ruben Selles’ final starting lineup should see Gavin Bazunu drafted into the team, with the future of their senior goalkeeper. Alex McCarthy, uncertain. Tino Livramento will hopefully come into the team at right back, as Kyle Walker-Peters probably retains his place at left back. Duje Ćaleta-Car is likely to replace Lyanco as the left sided centre back, with Jan Bednarek parting him. Roméo Lavia has been heavily linked with a summer move to Anfield, therefore, this may give him the perfect opportunity to pass the final eye test. Jürgen Klopp appears eager to add the talented 19-year-old defensive midfielder to his squad, which could make for an interesting performance. Ahead of the Belgium player, James Ward-Prowse and Carlos Alcaraz will form a central midfield partnership, with Kamaldeen Sulemana likely to return to one of the wings. It will then be a decision as to whether Theo Walcott or Mohamed Elyounoussi start on the other flank. Paul Onuachu may come into the side for Joe Aribo. The giant Nigerian has struggled this year, yet could be drafted in as the only available striker.
Liverpool come into this game on the back of a draw and seven straight victories, with 5th place in the Premier League’s final standings now confirmed. Aston Villa were the organized team that were able to take away the reds feint top four hopes, with a lacklustre 1-1 game being played out at Anfield last Sunday. The 19-time English league champions will participate in next seasons Europa League competition, with Thursday night football becoming a new reality for the fanbase. After achieving just 66 points from their 37 games played, the away side are confirmed in their final league position.
In terms of the Liverpool availabilities, Calvin Ramsay and Stefan Bajčetić are definitely out, whereas Naby Keïta appears to have played his last game for the club. Thiago Alcântara is now out for the rest of the season, whilst Darwin should be fit after a toe injury. This final game represents an opportunity for others to bid their final farewells, after the emotional Anfield goodbyes last weekend.
The world’s number one keeper, Alisson Becker, will resume in goal, as Virgil and Ibrahima Konaté retain their places in central defense. Andy Robertson will probably take his place as the left sided defender, with Trent remaining in the hybrid role of defender and central midfielder. The majority of play should fall towards the reds; therefore, he should spend most of the game in central areas. Jordan Henderson will likely start alongside Fabinho and Curtis Jones, in an unchanged midfield. The attack will see Mohamed Salah and Cody Gakpo selected, whereas we could see Darwin or Diogo Jota called into the team for this final game. This last game could become a day of proper goodbyes, therefore, do not be surprised if James Milner, Roberto Firmino or Alex Oxlade Chamberlain start.
I really don’t know whether this game will play out as a training match, or whether each side will be looking to make an impression ahead of the looming changes at each club. Tino Livramento and Roméo Lavia have been linked with moves to the Merseyside giants, therefore could help push their side to a strong and competitive game, in-front of the watching opposition manager. The remainder of the side could well be playing for their futures (either with Saints or for watching scouts), therefore I imagine the home side will come into the game with a competitive mindset. Liverpool will be downhearted and may struggle to raise themselves for this game, after the confirmation of their Champions League omission. The new system and tactical plan are still being explored, which may make this game a joyful watch, with the away side eventually having too much quality not to overcome their bottom placed opponents.
Player to watch – Roberto Firmino
Southampton 2 – 3 Liverpool