Aaron Curry analyses Liverpool’s prospects against Southampton, with the Reds set to miss a few key players for their trip to St. Mary’s.
As the abhorred international break comes to a close for the third time this season, the majority of all that follow a Premier League team will be glad to see the end of it. None more so than Liverpool fans, who marvel at their side sitting atop the league table for the first time since 2014. The next test for the in-form squad is certainly not one to be overlooked – facing a tricky time down at St Mary’s.
Southampton sit midtable, a comfortable tenth place after enduring a mixed start to the season; and they will hope to gain invaluable three points as they take on Jürgen Klopp’s men. Liverpool meanwhile, look to extend their lead at the pinnacle of the table. It is an exciting fixture on paper and it will more than likely match this on the pitch.
Every Liverpool fan has come to expect the same result week in week out this campaign. A flurry of goals, a convincing attacking performance and three points with slight (perhaps an understatement) defensive hiccups along the way. Accompanying this is also the same eleven players, which may have to be altered slightly for the Saturday afternoon kick-off.
Defensively, Liverpool are as intact as ever with Loris Karius set to keep his place between the sticks (making his seventh appearance). The inevitable centre-back pairing of Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren also looks nailed on. Sitting on the outside of these two will more than likely be English counterparts Nathaniel Clyne and James Milner, who have had very solid seasons up to this moment.
Being able to roll these names off the tongue seems relatively easy when compared to the rest of the potential team sheet
Klopp has opted for a 4-3-3 system this season as it is best suited for his gengenpressing style of play which he is known for. This has meant dropping English workhorse, Adam Lallana into a much deeper role – a role which he will be unable to fill. Suffering an aggravating groin injury (for both himself and fans alike), he is likely to be kept on the sideline for the upcoming fixture. Denying him the chance to face his former club and keep his own run of dazzling form going, the question is who replaces him.
The most obvious choice, and the one I think Klopp will endorse, is Georginio Wijnaldum. Having played alongside Lallana on numerous occasions this season, he is best adapted to understanding the role and will easily slide back into the starting eleven after returning from injury.
Joining Wijnaldum in the heart of the pitch will no doubt be Emre Can and Jordan Henderson. With the skipper, Henderson, sitting in a slightly deeper role to the more advanced two. It is a midfield trio with plenty of technical ability on the ball and stamina off the ball, suiting Klopp’s style like a glove.
Then comes the critical part – the attack. With a staggering 30 goals in 11 Premier League games, Klopp would undoubtedly want to see his fluid, attacking football continue at this pace. An average of 2.7 goals a game is no easy task, but I think whoever plays can achieve this number.
With the regular three of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho all getting game time over the international break, I think that only the latter will be rested. An in-form Coutinho played 170 minutes, whilst his Brazilian amigo Firmino played just eight. This exposes him to fatigue, and being fatigued means he will be less likely to press to Klopp’s standards.
Dropping Coutinho would mean bringing in someone to replace him as well as Adam Lallana. Daniel Sturridge is the answer for me. Much like at Burton in the EFL Cup, I think Firmino will be pushed out onto the left-hand side so that Sturridge can predominantly occupy that centre-forward’s role. Of course, there would still be fluid interchanging of positions, just without the magic of Philippe Coutinho.
All in all, Jürgen Klopp knows his squad better than anyone else, meaning he probably already has a clear picture of how he wants to set up against The Saints. Despite all of the team selection dilemmas, the main objective is the three points and every player will be giving blood, sweat and tears for them. The Liverpool way.