Liverpool will travel to Southampton on Sunday, to take on the fourth placed side in the league. In a crucial battle for potential top 4 at the end of the season, the Reds would be hoping to carry their current momentum, emerge triumphant and get all the three points back. That result will mean Liverpool are only one point behind Southampton. After having five of their important players poached in the summer a three by Liverpool a many expected Saints to have a disastrous season. To their disappointment, Ronald Koeman has ensured that his team is a worthy contender for the a top 4 place. Since the beginning of the season, Southampton have continuously been in grasp of the Champions League spot (next season). Liverpool, on the other hand, have struggled early on in the season but look in extremely good touch at the moment and could well go on to challenge for the top 4 spots till the business end of the season. Here are three questions that Liverpool need to answer before the match begins at St. Mary’s this Sunday.
Does Philippe Coutinho need rest?
Coutinho has put on exquisite performances recently and his upturn in form is complementary to Liverpoola s. The Brazilian was rightly rewarded with a new deal and is on top of his game. He has reinstated himself as Brendan Rodgersa key man and is definitely the first name on the teamsheet in every game. However, after eighteen straight starts, the 22 year old looks very tired and jaded recently. Since the game against Everton, Coutinho hasna t made many eye-catching contributions. It is testament to his ability that despite not doing particularly well for his standard, he still manages to create chances and registers good stats at the end of every game. But stats don’t often show the true picture and from what it looks like recently, Coutinho needs to sit out a game or two and reenergize. He was subbed near the hour mark against Besiktas which gives an indication that Rodgersa wants to use him against Southampton. Liverpool have a very testing time ahead of them. They travel to Istanbul this Thursday to take on Besiktas in a tough match. Next Sunday, they are faced with a big visit from Manchester City in a game that could well determine their top 4 chances. Brendan Rodgers needs to manage Coutinho well as he is key to unlocking defences.
Overall fitness of the team could play a crucial part in this game. Despite only losing one of their last 13 league games, Liverpool were in Europa League action in midweek while their opponents would not have played a game for 11 days. Therefore, Rodgersa has to keep this factor in mind and use his freshest players. Lazar Markovic didna t play in Europe while Sterling only played about 10 minutes. Both could be used to shoulder the burden from Coutinho. The Braziliana s services could surely be used at St. Marya s as Southampton possess dominant midfield and a tight defence. However, another start might show us another under-par performance from Coutinho. The Brazilian could be used as an impact sub in the game.
Should Adam Lallana be dropped?
The former Saints captain has had a very start-stop first season with the Merseyside club. He has put in decent performances, and has reasonable numbers accompanying him but is yet to justify the A?25m sum Liverpool paid for him. His defence though is that he has regularly been in and out of the side with injuries. But with the comments he has made prior to the match about his Saints exit leaving a sour taste in many mouths, his individual performance might be put more under the microscope. Thata s not the only issue with Lallana at the moment. Despite his winning goal against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup recently, the player has looked far from convincing. He hasna t put in performances to be particularly proud of and looked really out of touch against Besiktas in the Europa League. With Raheem Sterling returning to the side as a substitute in the previous match, there is a good chance that the young Englishman will start this tough game and it will be best for the Reds if he does so instead of Lallana. On the flipside, Lallana could be determined to prove himself against his former employees and could have a good game as well. But either way Rodgers decides to go, it wouldn’t be the biggest decision he has made recently, or even in this game.
Should Emre Can be moved up to the midfield?
To his credit, Welshman Joe Allen has put in good performances over the last couple of games. However, against Southampton, Liverpoola s midfield would have to be at their absolute best. Winning the midfield battle against the likes of Schneiderlin and Wanyama is half the job done and the Redsa would be missing Lucasa s services terribly in this game. After a terrible start to life at Liverpool, Dejan Lovren has been dropped for Mamadou Sakho and the latter hasna t disappointed. Lovren has been used as a substitute in the last few games and signs from him are promising. He looks much better and perhaps could capitalize well on a chance offered to him by Brendan Rodgers. In that case, Emre Can could be moved up in the midfield. The young German has done very well recently and is already a Kop favourite. His physicality could help Jordan Henderson in the middle and help the Reds boss the second third of the pitch. Cana s attacking instincts could also help Liverpool have a player who could dictate play from the centre and link up with the likes of Ibe and Sterling from the middle of the pitch while thrusting forward as well. Even though he has been used as a holding player for most part of his career, his attack mindedness means he needs a proper defensive midfielder alongside him. However, him forming a double pivot with Jordan Henderson wouldna t be such a bad idea. Can moving to the midfield might be the trick against a strong Southampton side.
Does Brendan Rodgers need to change the formation from 3-4-2-1 to a 3-4-1-2?
Ever since switching to three at the back with two wingbacks and two players behind the striker, Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers have got favorable results. Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho are the ideal choices for the roles behind the forward. But with Sterling and Coutinho’s starts a doubt for the game, does it make sense for Brendan Rodgers to tinker the formation slightly and start with two strikers – Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli? Ever since scoring the winning goal against Spurs at Anfield, Balotelli has put a shift in and done well. It was his contribution against Palace that helped Liverpool get a win and break the Selhust Park hoodoo. It was him who scored the penalty against Besiktas for the Reds to get a crucial win. And the two goals and an assist Balotelli has registered have been from the bench. So should Brendan Rodgers reward the Italian with a start against Saints and partner Daniel Sturridge with him? Liverpool’s two strikers have developed a good connection and look good on the field together. Sturridge is more mobile and he drifts in the wide areas while Balotelli gets himself in and around the box. Due to Balotelli’s substitute roles, the two haven’t played too many minutes together so it is tough to assess how good they are as a partnership. The signs are definitely promising. And even if he doesn’t start, Koeman and the Southampton team would be well aware of the threat Liverpool’s latest ‘super sub’ will bring in with his arrival from the bench.