With all the World Cup 2018 pots decided and international friendly scores settled, international football takes a hiatus for four months and club football makes a return this weekend. It’s been more than three months into the season, but the Premier League season is not even one-third over yet. In the twelfth game-week of the season, Liverpool will host Southampton at Anfield on Saturday afternoon.
Jurgen Klopp’s team are sitting fifth on 19 points, within touching distance of Chelsea (22 points) in fourth. Before the November international break commenced, Liverpool had run into a bit of form winning the last three games and scoring 15 goals in the last five. Liverpool need that form to continue if they are to get back in to the top-four over the next few game weeks. They will also need that sort of a form to ensure that they can overcome Southampton, as under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool have only managed one win against the Saints. With some key players (Salah, Sturridge, Oxlade-Chamberlain) rested during the international break and a few others having come back from injuries (Coutinho, Lallana, and Henderson), Liverpool will be hopeful of ending their winless run against Southampton.
Mauricio Pellegrino, who appeared for Liverpool 13 times between January and May 2005, now heads to Anfield as a rival manager. His side are currently 13th in the league with 13 points and while they are defensively good, the Saints have struggled to score goals this season. The Saints are in underwhelming form this season and on top of that, their top defender – Virgil van Dijk – is going to play against the club that chased him fervently during the summer and that still hope to sign him in January. They have scored only nine times in their eleven games thus far, while conceding eleven. Based on xG estimates, they should have about 15 points, which would have put them at least two places above their actual position.
- Liverpool and Southampton have played 84 top flight league matches and the Reds have won 39, drawn 21, and lost 24. Liverpool have scored 124 goals (72 at home) against the Saints, while conceding 95 times (31 at Anfield).
- While Liverpool’s record seems better in the last four years – 7 played, 3 won, 3 drawn and 1 game lost – with 10 goals from the Reds and 5 from the Saints, Liverpool have not beaten Southampton in the last five attempts in all competitions, not even scoring in the last four matches against Southampton.
- Going by the Club Elo Ratings, Southampton have won the most Elo points – 198.3 – against Liverpool. This means that although the Saints have been traditionally a weaker team than Liverpool, they have upset the Reds the most.
- Southampton are also one of Jurgen Klopp’s bogey teams. The German has managed seven games against the Saints but has only won once, losing thrice and drawing thrice. Klopp has managed against a Pellegrino side before though.
Mohamed Salah alone has scored more goals in all competitions than the entire Southampton side. His 12 goals in the first three months of the season (in all comp) is a better start than every Liverpool forward other than Robbie Fowler. An xG per 90 of 0.70 and an expected assist per 90 minutes of 0.19 mean that in current form, Salah has 89% chance of being involved in a goal. The pacy winger has shown a few times already this season that he can be key in unlocking a stubborn defense and Liverpool are likely to meet one on Saturday.
Mario Lemina is Southampton’s best player this season – purely on the basis of stats. As a defensive midfielder, he has been putting in his fair share of tackles and interceptions – 3 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per game. A 91% passing accuracy means that he is not likely to lose the ball easily, while 2.6 dribbles per game indicate that he is capable of taking the ball forward. Further, 1.4 shots per game and 0.7 key passes per game indicate a possibility of him getting on the scoresheet. Although the Gabon international was not available for Saints’ last two matches, a rest over the international break and the above qualities might force Pellegrino to select him on Saturday.
Sadio Mane and Nathaniel Clyne will both be unavailable to face their former club but Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain will be fit to at least make the bench. Jordan Henderson also did not feature for England during the break and should be available for selection on Saturday. Philippe Coutinho’s back problems seemed to have gotten over as he lined up for Brazil against England. He too should be available for selection.
For Southampton, Mario Lemina has recovered from his ankle injury and should be available for Pellegrino to select on Saturday. All other players are available giving the Argentine manager a chance to put forward his best eleven.
Last season, Southampton were one of those sides that provided the template for effective defensive organization against Liverpool. They did not give away a single goal in four games last season. But this season, the Saints’ defense is a bit leaky (xGA of 13.39). Further, Liverpool have added Salah to their firepower and also shown the ability to break down stubborn defenses this season. With Southampton constrained in their scoring and Liverpool confident in theirs, Saturday’s game should end in a win for Liverpool, even if they are made to work hard for it.
Liverpool 2 – 0 Southampton
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