Verdict: Total goals over 3.5
Best odds: 4/5
The World Cup is nearly upon us for the countries involved, this weekend, club football will dance its last dance before the controversial tournament in Qatar begins. On Saturday, Liverpool will welcome Southampton to Anfield as part of what is officially round 16 of the Premier League campaign, though no team has actually played 15 matches yet due to a whole round being postponed after the death of Queen Elizabeth II back in September.
For Liverpool, each game now feels crucial if they are to regain some ground in the race. Though their quest for the title has practically failed already, top-four placement is certainly still within reach. But it won’t be easy; the competition is fierce and there’s no more room for error.
At the moment, the Merseysiders are eighth in the table with 19 points. The gap to Tottenham Hotspur in fourth place is seven points, with Manchester United, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Chelsea squeezed in between. A win here could take them above the latter two, providing neither of those teams emerge victorious against Aston Villa and Newcastle, respectively.
Therefore, there’s nothing for it in regards to this game than to use the vast quality of their team properly, coupled with the Anfield atmosphere, and do whatever it takes to book another three points.
The trouble from their point of view is simple – you never know with Liverpool. Their last-six run in all competitions includes some shocking defeats and some resounding victories. It starts with a 1-0 loss away to Nottingham Forest, followed by a 0-3 win away to Ajax in the Champions League. Then they lost 1-2 at home to Leeds United, before beating Serie A leaders Napoli 2-0 a home. They achieved a very important victory 1-2 away to Spurs, and earlier this week, a completely rotated side, involving a number of academy players, played a goalless draw against Derby County in the Carabao Cup and progressed to the next round on penalties.
The last couple of days have been very exciting for Liverpool off the pitch as well. They have been drawn to face Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16, obviously presented with an opportunity to get back at the Spanish giants for all the woes inflicted since 2018 – two Champions League final defeats, and a quarterfinal exit in 2020/21.
But even that huge piece of news took a back seat in the minds of the Liverpool supporters, as club owners Fenway Sports Group announced inviting offers from potential shareholders. There have been different interpretations of their statement, but the fact that no denial of reports entitled “FSG to sell Liverpool” or to that effect, has come yet, seems to be a strong indication of their intention to pass on the guardianship of the historic club. Watch this space.
Klopp’s ranks could be boosted ahead of this game by the returns of midfielders James Milner (concussion) and Naby Keita (hamstring), as well as defender Joel Matip (calf), but it remains to be seen if the manager chooses to risk any of them now, with a break of over a month to follow. Winger Luis Diaz (knee), midfielder Arthur Melo (hamstring) and forward Diogo Jota (calf) remain out.
Most likely, Klopp with go with Alisson Becker in goal, even though Caoimhin Kelleher turned real hero on Wednesday by saving three penalties against Derby. Matip’s return probably won’t be enough to displace Ibrahima Konate, who put in a fantastic performance against Spurs. The France international will therefore join forces with Virgil van Dijk in the heart of defence, with Trent Alexander-Arnold on the right and Andy Robertson on the left. Fabinho will anchor the midfield, joined by Thiago Alcantara and most likely Harvey Elliott, though captain Jordan Henderson could take one of those spots too. In the absence of Diaz and Jota, the trio of Roberto Firmino, Darwin Nunez and Mohamed Salah appears untouchable upfront.
Southampton, on the other hand, appear to be set for a fight for survival this term, which, in all honesty, isn’t that strange. There has been off-pitch turbulence at St. Mary’s as well, with manager Ralph Hasenhuttl getting the sack after last week’s defeat at home to Newcastle. The team was led by assistant Ruben Selles Salvador in their Carabao Cup triumph over Sheffield Wednesday in midweek, but newly appointed Nathan Jones, who left Luton Town to take this job, will lead them at Anfield.
A look at the table gives a rather clear clue as to why the club hierarchy opted for a change in the dugout. Southampton are currently in the relegation zone, sitting 18th with 12 points, just two more than Wolverhampton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest below.
On the other hand, a look at the last-six run gives the impression that the decision to sack Hasenhuttl was, perhaps, a bit harsh. The Newcastle defeat seems to have been a setback, if a rather painful one, amid what hasn’t been that bad a period overall. The Saints were thrashed 4-0 away to Manchester City, but in all honesty, there’s no real shame in losing away to the reigning champions. Then they drew 1-1 at home against West Ham, triumphed 0-1 away to Bournemouth, drew 1-1 at home against league leaders Arsenal, lost 1-0 away to Crystal Palace, and lost 1-4 at home to Newcastle. The shootout win over Sheffield Wednesday came after a 1-1 draw, but as has been said, Hasenhuttl was already gone by that time.
The players will likely see the Anfield trip as a good opportunity to show the new boss what they’re made of, so it’s likely we’ll see a strong effort to stop last season’s runners-up.
Southampton’s injury issues have been hardest on the right-back department, with Kyle Walker-Peters (hamstring) and Valentino Livramento both ruled out at the moment (knee). Juan Larios, an 18-year-old left-back, is also out (adductor).
Jones has mostly used the 3-4-1-2 shape at Luton, but with a whole new set of players at his disposal, not to mention playing at a significantly higher level, it remains to be seen which system he goes for at Anfield and which players he picks to implement his ideas on the pitch.
For the moment, it only feels safe to say that captain James Ward-Prowse will be pulling the strings from the middle of the park. Che Adams is likely to start upfront, as well as Mohammed Salisu in the heart of defence.
You never know with Liverpool, but there’s no escaping the fact that the Merseysiders are still strong favourites to win this match. On the other hand, it feels a safer bet to go with goals – there will be chances at both ends, as Liverpool push to break down the visitors’ resistance and the Saints seek for counterattacking opportunities. Klopp’s men have proven vulnerable when struck quickly.
Verdict: Total goals over 3.5
Best odds: 4/5