Key Battles: Liverpool vs. Southampton – Where the Reds will beat the Saints

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Liverpool Training Session And Press Conference
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Fresh from a pair of impressive victories over Spurs and PSG, Liverpool’s season rolls on with a visit from Southampton up next. 

Tottenham Hotspur – beaten.

Paris Saint Germain – beaten.

Up next? Southampton, or as some may call them in recent years, Liverpool’s reserves.

The south coast side visit Anfield on Saturday afternoon in interesting form, with Mark Hughes’ side being buoyed somewhat by the goals of former Liverpool man Danny Ings but still struggling for results.

A convincing win over Crystal Palace has been sandwiched by frustrating losses to Leicester and Everton, along with the blowing of a 2-0 lead against Brighton last weekend to surrender a share of the points.

The Saints do still have a good side however and even with Danny Ings ineligible for the fixture due to this season being a loan move prior to a commitment to buy at the end of the season, there will still be a number of individual battles across the pitch that Liverpool will have to win to come out on top.

Mario Lemina VS Naby Keïta/James Milner

While Hughes has primarily asked his side to operate with a two man midfield (4-4-2) that has consisted of Mario Lemina and one of Romeu or Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Liverpool’s midfield is a little harder to predict.

What I can guarantee however, is that at least one – if not both – of James Milner or Naby Keïta will feature and how they deal with the impressive Mario Lemina will certainly have a bearing on the eventual result.

The former Juventus midfielder has been one of Southampton’s few star men over the last 12 months or so and his industry and off the ball work are second to none in the Saints side from what I’ve seen.

Having played at the highest level with The Old Lady, Lemina also boasts an elite mentality above that of many of his team-mates, a likely reason as to why he was made captain after Virgil van Dijk’s move away.

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However, Lemina won’t have come across many midfield partnerships like that of James Milner and Naby Keïta.

Both players possess such incredible energy and will cover every blade of grass twice if not three times during a game and Milner especially will be expected to give the Gabonese international a truly tough time of it if he starts on the weekend.

Despite being 32-years-old and one of the more ‘unfashionable’ footballers in the modern game, Milner has been one of Liverpool’s standout performers this season so far, overshadowing much hyped new-boy Naby Keïta and keeping the likes of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson out of the team.

Keïta meanwhile has shown that he still needs time to adapt to English football but there have been some real fleeting glimpses of the class the lad possesses and while Southampton won’t exactly be a walk in the park, it’s as good a game as any to try and properly start expressing himself in a Liverpool shirt.

If Liverpool’s three man midfield can create an overload in the middle of the park and overrun the likely double-pivot pairing of Lemina and one of Højbjerg/Romeu, it’ll go a long way to helping the Reds ensure they extend their Premier League winning streak this season to six games on the bounce.

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Virgil van Dijk VS… everyone? 

Something that’s plagued Liverpool in past fixtures against Southampton – especially those across the 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons – is the fact that their ex-Saints cohort and let’s face it, there’s a lot of them, have crumbled against their old side.

The harsh treatment thrown their way by the Southampton fans and attempts to get under their skin by ex-teammates have disrupted the likes of Clyne, Lovren, Lallana and even Sadio Mané previously but the trend was broken spectacularly by Virgil van Dijk earlier this year.

Despite constant heckling from the crowd and boos every time the Dutchman touched the ball when the Reds visited his old stomping ground in February, Virgil simply looked better as the heckling grew louder.

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There was even a great moment where he made a tackle, was booed heavily for it and the cameras caught him smiling to himself and almost encouraging the reaction from the crowd. He loved it!

If the big Dutchman can put in another confident, borderline arrogant performance of that sort on Saturday, then Liverpool should have no worries about nullifying a Southampton attack that has – Ings aside – struggled to find the back of the net this season.

Mo Salah VS himself

It’s no secret that Mohamed Salah has been a little out of sorts this season, missing chances we’ve grown to expect him to score, struggling to quite get to grips with games and against PSG, even making the unforced error that led to the Parisians’ second goal.

The Egyptian King started slowly last season too but what has been noticeably different this time round is the frustration that Salah has visibly displayed towards himself.

Where previously, the former Roma man looked incredibly confident in his own abilities, so much so that he was almost predicting things before they were happening, there looks to be almost a shade of doubt over his own ability this time round.

The reality is, that even the best players have periods where things simply don’t happen for them and that’s what’s happening with Salah at the moment.

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Eden Hazard once went 356 days without a Premier League goal, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored just two goals from over 30 shots for Juventus this season and most recently was bizarrely sent off in the Champions League while Neymar has torn up Ligue 1 only to flop on the biggest stage at Anfield on Tuesday night.

It happens to all of the best for at least some period of time: they are only human after all.

If Fabianski doesn’t get a hand to the close up effort on the opening day, the Egyptian buries the Leicester chance and the PSG goal he scored had stood, then we’d still maybe be saying that Salah isn’t looking 100% but he’d have five goals from six appearances and no one would bat an eyelid.

Small margins make such big differences in football and sometimes, those margins just don’t go your way.

What Salah needs to do on Saturday, is go into the match with a clear head, reboot and allow himself to play on instinct once again because that is where he’s most dangerous.

The Egyptian grabbed three goals and an assist in two games against Southampton last season and it would be fantastic to see him rediscover his top form against them this weekend.

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