Another cup clash at Anfield. Another 2nd leg fixture under the lights. Another fairy tale in the making?
With a 1-0 deficit and a trip to Wembley at stake, the stage is set for Liverpool… To do a Liverpool come Wednesday night.
Jurgen Klopp will be eyeing another trip to Wembley having promised Liverpool fans about ‘many more finals’ after his side succumbed against Seville at Basel in Europa finale, last summer.
Liverpool were rather relieved to return from St. Mary’s after losing ‘just 1-0’ in a game where Southampton left the pitch more disappointed with outcast goalie Karius saving Liverpool from utter humiliation. On a night where Nathan Redmond was on fire and Claude Puel’s side showcased an extremely gritty and organised defensive performance, Liverpool could have easily lost the tie by three goals or perhaps even four if not for the heroics from Loris Karius.
Klopp’s side have just won a single game (against lowly Plymouth) in 2017 and Liverpool’s title hopes hit a new low earlier in the week as they lost at Anfield for the first time in over 12 months against relegation battlers Swansea City (The Robin Hood at it, yet again). Paul Clement’ side embarrassed the Reds in front of the Kop, inflicting a 3-2 defeat and making yet another mockery of the Liverpool defense on Saturday. Klopp has called out for fans and players alike to restore positivity at Anfield and fight their way back in form against the Saints.
Southampton arrive at Anfield having kept back to back clean sheets against the mighty Liverpool attack. Puel’s men defeated Leicester in a 3-0 thumping over the weekend as Virgil Van Dijk limped out following an ankle injury. Saint’s also overcame Arsenal in the quarters of the EFL cup this season by handing Arsene’s men a convincing 2-0 defeat in their own backyard, Emirates.
The winner of this match will face Manchester United (most certainly) at Wembley in the final. Liverpool finished runners up last season after losing out on a ‘Caballero inspired’ penalty shootout against Pellegrini’s Citizens.
- Sadio Mane is playing for Senegal in the ongoing AFCON and is unavailable for selection.
- Joel Matip played 60 minutes for the U-23s and is expected to start the game, which must be a massive boost for an otherwise leaky Liverpool defense.
- Phillipe Coutinho was subbed off just before the hour mark against Swansea and will be in contention to start the tie against the Saints.
- Jordan Henderson is expected to play through his pain as he battles with a heel complaint.
- Team captain and one of the most sought after players in Europe, Virgil Van Dijk is a major doubt for the clash.
- Club captain Steven Davis is also doubtful having sustained an injury in the previous leg of this fixture.
- Sofiane Boufal, Charlie Austin, Alex McCarthy, Matt Targett, Jeremy Pied and Jake Hesketh remain unavailable for selection.
- Liverpool are yet to score against Saints this season having blanked in both the fixtures (0-0 and 1-0) at St. Mary’s.
- However, Liverpool defeated Southampton 1-6 last season in the League Cup with Divock Origi bagging a hat-trick and Sturridge chipping in with a brace.
- Liverpool have 4 former Southampton players in Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Sadio Mane (off to Gabon playing for Senegal in AFCON).
- Claude Puel is yet to keep an unchanged team in two successive games having already made 200 changes so far since August.
Joel Matip: Simply put forth, Liverpool are yet to lose a game this season with Joel Matip in the starting lineup. With a 71% winning ratio and a paltry 0.8 goals conceded on an average spread over 14 games this season, Matip’s value to this Reds backline is immense. The 6ft 4in defender, who was signed for free on a pre-contract agreement (from Schalke), brings with him a sense of calmness and composure in an otherwise frantic Liverpool back line. He is good with the ball at his feet and is equally potent defending and attacking set-pieces. This is a game where Liverpool simply cannot afford to concede and what better fixture for Matip to come back into the starting XI and make an instant impact for the Reds.
Fraser Forster: The former Norwich and Celtic shot-stopper, who has been capped by England on six occasions, will have to step up in the absence of team captain and defensive powerhouse Virgil Van Dijk. Rookie CB Jack Stephens is expected to deputise in Van Dijk’s absence and the 6ft 7in goalkeeper will certainly be at the end of a flurry of shots on target by the Reds in a presumably electrifying Anfield atmosphere. The Reds with the likes of Sturridge and Origi will be raring to go all guns blazing and Forster will have to produce something spectacular out of his bag to keep Klopp’s juggernaut at bay. However, if he does manage to bring out his best at Anfield, Saints could be looking forward to that glorious trip to ‘The Home of Football’.
It is Claude Puel prerogative to play defensive football having bagged crucial wins against Arsenal at Emirates (0-2) and Liverpool at St. Mary’s (1-0). We can expect more of the same from his side but without the quality, inspiration and leadership of team captain Vigil Van Dijk, Southampton defence will not be the same (considering Fonte’s departure too).
On the contrary, the Kopites under lights will be buzzing and the effect of the twelfth man at Anfield is something which is no strange phenomena in footballing folklore.
I am going with a clean sheet for the Reds with Karius and Matip ensuring Saints don’t get that precious away goal. Either of the two misfiring strikers to find their respective missing shooting boots in a Phillipe Coutinho inspired victory for Liverpool well within 90 minutes.
Liverpool 2-0 Southampton