St, Mary’s Stadium, Southampton
February 22nd, 2015; 16:15 GMT
It seems as though Manchester United may have signed the wrong Dutchman as manager. While Louis van Gaala s uber-expensive squad seems to be simply sputtering along on the back of individual talent, his compatriot Ronald Koeman has forged an impressive side out of a bunch of relative unknowns. Players like Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and Sadio Mane were hardly household names till last season, but they have been vastly impressive under Koemana s tutelage.
Liverpool FCa s Brendan Rodgers has won back the faith of fans and critics alike by kicking his team into a higher gear in the new year. The return of Daniel Sturridge has been critical, and it has luckily coincided with new players like Lazar Markovic and Emre Can finally finding their feet, and the winter return (from loan) of youngster Jordan Ibe. This game has a direct impact on who will make the top 4 come end of the season, as Liverpool can come within just one point of Southampton, who are currently on 46 points, with a win.
Southampton FC – Team News and Tactics
Southampton FCa s injury list notably includes Toby Alderweireld, Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez, while Morgan Schneiderlin is also a doubt. Ryan Bertrand will serve the last of his 3-match ban for a red card he picked up against Swansea City.
Ronald Koemana s Southampton side tends to alternate between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 formation. Assuming Schneiderlin isna t fit enough to start, the 4-2-3-1 is the more likely course, as Koeman has rarely played a 4-3-3 in the absence of the French central midfielder. Ryan Bertrand is a big miss, as him and Nathaniel Clyne have been pivotal in both a defensive sense as well in going forward. Both have chalked up 2 goals each this season, and Bertrand also has 2 assists to his name. Maya Yoshida, who will play in place of Bertrand at left-back, is a reliable alternative, but not nearly as incisive going forward.
Koeman will try to cut the supply line to Coutinho and Sterling, and force them to come deeper to collect the ball. Liverpool should expect a well-organised back 4, with Victor Wanyama and Steven Davis pressing Liverpoola s midfielders to ensure they dona t get any space or time on the ball. In James Ward-Prose and Dusan Tadic, Southampton have two players who have 13 assists between them. When you combine their creativity with the pace of Sadio Mane (5 goals in 13 appearances), and the strength of Graziano Pelle (8 goals this season, in 25 appearances), Koemana s side have more than enough firepower to punish any lapse of concentration by Liverpool.
Expected started line-up (4-2-3-1): Forster (GK); Clyne, Fonte, Gardos, Yoshida; Wanyama, Davis; Ward-Prose, Tadic, Mane; Pelle.
Liverpool FC – Team News and Tactics
Liverpoola s central midfield is the worst affected by injury Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard are both out. A bigger worry will be whether players will be fit enough to play 90 minutes after just having played against Besiktas on Thursday. Raheem Sterling should be fit enough to start, having made the bench for the UEFA Europa League game, while Lazar Markovic will also be raring to go having sat out that game due to a 4 match ban.
Brendan Rodgers will likely stick to his 3-4-2-1 formation, with Daniel Sturridge leading the line. The English striker played the full 90 minutes against Besiktas, but Liverpool dona t look half as good in his absence, so its unlikely Rodgers will rest him for such a critical game. Odds are that none of the 3 ex-Southampton players will get a start. Dejan Lovren isna t good enough to replace any of the regular back 3 players (Mamadou Sakho, Martin Skrtel and Emre Can), and Rickie Lambert is behind both Sturridge and Mario Balotelli in the pecking order. Adam Lallana is the best of this lot, but is likely to start from the bench with Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling being more likely candidates to break down this tough Southampton side.
The game is likely to see a change in tactics around the 60th or 70th minute mark, with both teams having good options to come off the bench when needed. Southampton have the pacey Eljero Elia at their disposal, with Schneiderlin can come on and exponentially increase the amount of control Koemana s side have in midfield. Rodgers can bring on Adam Lallana and Mario Balotelli, who will likely help slow the pace of the game. He can also bring on Lovren, allowing Can to replace Joe Allen in midfield. This results in Liverpool having a less reliable back 3, but a far more dynamic central midfield. Then therea s Jordon Ibe, the 19-year old winger who has been a revelation with his wing-play and attacking threat.
Expected starting line-up (3-4-2-1): Mignolet (GK); Can , Skrtel, Sakho; Markovic, Henderson, Allen, Moreno; Coutinho, Sterling; Sturridge
Player to watch out for
The Serbian winger has been impressive in recent weeks, and would have been devastated that he has to sit out 4 UEFA Europa League over a harsh red card. He will also be aware of how big a threat Jordon Ibe is to his place in starting 11. Expect him to give Maya Yoshida a tough night on Liverpoola s right flank, where Markovic will put the full range of his dribbling, passing and shooting abilities on display.
- Liverpool have averaged 15.9 shots per game, second only to Manchester City (16.9) in the Premier League.
- Southampton have allowed the fewest number of shots on target on their goal (66 ) this season.
- Liverpool have had 14 different scorers in the Premier League this season.
Southampton FC 1 -1 Liverpool FC
Ronald Koeman will be well aware of Liverpoola s attacking threat, and will likely focus greatly on defensive discipline. Hea ll ensure that there is very little space behind his defence for players like Markovic and Sterling to run into. Liverpool FC have what it takes to beat a sturdy side like this, but only if theya re playing at a 100% fitness. Having just played Besiktas late on Thursday night, Rodgersa men are likely to look a little jaded. Expect Southampton to score off a counter-attack where Liverpool players fail to get back in time.