Liverpool will be looking to draw first blood as they visit the South coast to take on Southampton in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-finals.
Jurgen Klopp has revolutionised the Merseyside club since his arrival last season and has seen the players respond well to his attacking intent. The fans, too, have quickly connected with their manager, and there is an air of positivity in and around Anfield.
The German took over the reins in October 2015 and came within touching distance of winning his first trophy at the club, but watched his side lose 3-1 in a penalty shootout against Manchester City at Wembley.
This season, the Citizens were handed an early exit from the competition through their local rivals Manchester United, meaning there will be a new team that will lift the coveted trophy come the end of February.
Liverpool have been one of the competition’s best sides this season and are now only three wins away from winning it altogether. With many of the country’s top clubs knocked out already, it is just Manchester United that provide a realistic threat to their cup aspirations.
To set up a date against the Manchester outfit in the final, Liverpool will have to beat Southampton over two legs while the Red Devils will need to achieve the same feat against newly-promoted Premier League side Hully City.
Southampton have been a tad mediocre in the league this season, and are a few spots below where they intended to be at the start of the season. Manager Claude Puel made reasonably good signings in the summer window, and he still appears to be trying to get the best out of his players.
The best way for the Saints to prove that they understand the manager’s philosophy is by finding answers against a resolute Liverpool side at St. Mary’s. The pressure will be mounting on the visitors to get the job done, which could see Southampton play without fear and seize the ascendancy in the two-legged fixture.
Building up to the game, Klopp said that he will be choosing his strongest possible lineup. That would mean Loris Karius will start in goal with a back four of Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan and James Milner. Joel Matip has returned to light training, but will certainly not be risked by the manager.
In midfield, captain Jordan Henderson is expected to miss out as he still has to return to training, meaning Emre Can would slot alongside the duo of Georginio Wijnaldum and the in-form Englishman Adam Lallana.
Philippe Coutinho’s absence and Sadio Mane’s unavailability through international duty could see Klopp go for Roberto Firmino, Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge upfront.
For the hosts, Shane Long is expected to lead the line, receiving support on either flanks by the dexterous duo of Dusan Tadic and Nathan Redmond. Summer signing Pierre Emile Hojberg is likely to start in midfield.
Resuming their duties at full-back will be the ingenious pair of Cedric Soares and Ryan Bertrand. At centre-back, Maya Yoshida will partner Virgil van Dijk as club captain Jose Fonte recently handed in a transfer request, and is not expected to play any further until he sorts out his future at the club.
- The last time the two met in the League Cup, Liverpool romped to a 6-1 win at St Mary’s Stadium, with Divock Origi netting a hat-trick.
- Southampton beat the Reds 3-2 last season, coming from 2-0 behind to stun the Reds, with now-Liverpool man Sadio Mane scoring twice.
- The sides played out a tame 0-0 draw last time they faced each other in November.
- Roberto Firmino has been involved played a direct role in ten goals (seven goals, three assist) for Liverpool in all competitions this season.
- Midfielder Oriol Romeu has averaged the most tackles per game (3.5) for Southampton this season.
Southampton 1-1 Liverpool
The onus will be on Liverpool to pick up the initiative, but the absence of three key first-team figures may see the Reds struggle. Southampton have been decent defensively, and despite the absence of Fonte, they are likely to keep it tight at the back. Going forward, the Saints attackers have the pace to hand a tough time to the Liverpool defenders, and they may salvage a draw off the first leg.