Saturday, September 21 2013, 15:00 GMT
It’s still early days in the season, but who would have thought that Liverpool would stay on top of the league for half of September? Their 100% record may no longer be intact, but Liverpool will be out to defend their place in the Premier League when Southampton come visiting this Saturday.
Liverpool made a strong start to the season, not conceding a goal until the 2nd minute of their away trip to South Wales in their fourth game. Daniel Sturridge is in top form – scoring 4 goals in the first 4 league games of the season (a feat last accomplished by John Aldridge in 1987). New signings Kolo Toure and Simon Mignolet have settled in seamlessly too, with the Reds keeping clean sheets until the Swansea game. Liverpool have, however, had their problems. They seem to run out of steam in the second half and have had numerous injuries – Daniel Agger missed the game against Swansea due to a freak accident in the gym, Kolo Toure was absent against Manchester United, Joe Allen and Aly Cissokho both left the field injured during the League Cup tie against Notts County, Sebastian Coates is out for 6 months, while Martin Kelly is still not fully fit. The biggest blow of them all, however, is losing Philippe Coutinho – the Brazilian landed awkwardly on his shoulder from a challenge by Swans’ skipper Ashley Williams and will be out of action until the end of October. That will take some replacing.
Southampton, on the other hand, have made a steady start to the season, sitting 11th place after 5 points in 4 games. They finished the 2012-13 season strongly after Argentine Mauricio Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins. While patience was the order of the day under Adkins, their pressing high up the pitch has been a feature of their performances under the current manager. Sir Alex Ferguson even remarked that Manchester United were fortunate to win their fixture at Old Trafford last season, while the Saints recorded home victories over Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City. Southampton did some good business over the summer – signing highly-rated Victor Wanyama, as well as Roma forward Dani Osvaldo. Meanwhile, Rickie Lambert has taken to international football like a duck to water, being England’s best performer of late.
The Saints have, in fact, recorded the most amount of possession overall, after Everton. This will be no walk in the park for Liverpool.
Despite a strong start, the Reds have been hit with a few injuries that have prevented them from fielding their strongest possible side at home to the Saints. Andre Wisdom may well hold his place at right-back despite looking shaky at the Liberty Stadium, while Brendan Rodgers will hope that Daniel Agger passes a late fitness test before the game on Saturday. Given that Coutinho will be out for 6 weeks and that Suarez still hasn’t returned from suspension, it is likely that Jordan Henderson will be moved to the centre while Rodgers decides to go with Sterling on the right. Victor Moses did well during the Reds’ Welsh trip and should retain his place on the left flank.
Given Southampton’s success at implementing their pressing game, it is likely that Brendan Rodgers will opt for a defensive formation on the pitch. The likely aim would be to soak up the pressure from the Saints and hit them on the counter. Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne will be willing to move forward on either wing, thus leaving spaces behind them. This could prove to be the opportunity for Victor Moses and Raheem Sterling to run into space on a regular basis. Henderson in the centre would mean that Liverpool have someone to press Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin high up the pitch whenever necessary, as well as to burst forward towards the box when on the counter.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Mignolet (GK); Wisdom, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Sturridge, Moses
The Saints are likely to go with a 4-4-2 formation on Saturday; however, it would be far from stationary on the day. Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw bombing forward will give Enrique and Andre Wisdom (were he to play) something to think about. Summer signing Victor Wanyama will take his place in the centre of midfield along with Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin. It is the front four, however, that gives Mauricio Pochettino a few decisions to make.
It is quite likely that Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana will take their places on the left and right respectively, ahead of Uruguayan Gaston Ramirez. Having signed Dani Osvaldo for a sizable sum of £15 million, the manager is likely to field him up front. However, given Rickie Lambert’s record for club and country this year, he should take his place alongside the temperamental Italian. Academy graduate James Ward-Prowse has featured regularly this season until now. But given the tendency to field expensive signings as soon as they are brought into the club, he is more likely to come off the bench in the latter stages of the game.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-2): Boruc (GK); Clyne, Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Wanyama, Schneiderlin, Lallana, Rodriguez; Lambert, Osvaldo
Players to watch out for
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
This is no surprise. The man who has scored 4 out of Liverpool’s 5 goals this season will once again be a key player on Saturday. Any plans to hit the Saints on the counter would rest on Sturridge taking his chances whenever they come.
Rickie Lambert (Southampton)
The Liverpool-born striker’s success story has won the hearts of those who keep an eye out for the national team by hitting the ground running in the World Cup qualifiers. While Liverpool have signed three centre backs to counter their Achilles’ heel of big burly centre forwards, Lambert’s size and strength could be used to good effect. Moreover, his ability to link up play between midfield and attack can help drag defenders out of position, while retaining that uncanny knack of scoring goals.
Liverpool 2-2 Southampton
Liverpool looked shaky at the back at Swansea and could face the same problems at home on Saturday. However, given that Liverpool would pose a serious threat on the counter too, they should be able to score goals as well. Southampton are no pushovers, and this could well turn out an entertaining game at Anfield.