After a terrible run during Christmas Southampton’s odds of getting to the EFL Cup final have got a lot longer. But if Saints fans can put their troubles behind them and crank up the atmosphere at St Mary’s Stadium we could be in for a thrilling cup tie on Wednesday. Liverpool remain clear favourites, but Southampton can pull off a surprise.
Nobody apart from Swansea had a worse Christmas than Southampton, who lost three on the trot after a very creditable win away at Bournemouth. In truth the Saints deserved much more from the Tottenham and West Brom games.
Despite the scoreline in the Spurs match Southampton pushed Tottenham all the way and were hampered by Redmond’s harsh sending-off. A few days later they put West Brom under all kinds of pressure but couldn’t make it count and slumped to a defeat.
Then Everton swept Claude Puel’s team aside in comprehensive style on Monday to round off a wretched few days.
It could get a bit worse for Southampton who may be about to lose van Dijk to one of the league’s big boys. The upside is that he’s going to cost whoever buys him a serious amount of money.
Southampton are known for being cunning players in the transfer market and will have a few targets in mind should someone decide to pay van Dijk’s humongous release fee. In the meantime Yoshida and Fonte is a solid partnership should the deal go through before the first leg against Liverpool.
That money could be reinvested in a forward, especially now that Charlie Austin is out until the end of the season. As for their other choices, Jay Rodriguez is still coming back from an injury-wrecked couple of years, and Shane Long has never been clinical in front of goal.
The story of Southampton’s season is good football sabotaged by a lack of goals. And with a solid defence and midfield, a good forward could propel Saints up the table.
Sofiane Boufal is off to the Africa Cup of Nations with Morocco this week, which raises some selection questions for Claude Puel. The left-winger has become a regular these last few weeks.
One solution could be to look at the youth ranks, where Josh Sims has been earning rave reviews. Nathan Redmond can also play on the left, but as the season wears on the winger’s numbers look less and less inspiring.
After playing in almost in every league match this season Redmond has contributed only three goals and one assist. Once again it against it highlights Southampton’s serious goal dilemma.
Diamond is Forever?
With Boufal gone we could see Puel revert to the midfield four that he used until November. For the first few weeks of the season Tadić was starting behind two forward and was doing well.
After that the Serbian creator was dropped and didn’t get a look-in until the Christmas period. So if there is a change of system we may get to see Tadić floating in that central attacking midfield berth again.
It would also make sense because Puel has a surplus of good central midfielders to play deeper, like Davis, Clasie, Ward-Prowse, Romeu and Højbjerg.
Southampton Predicted Teamsheet:
Forster; Soares, Yoshida, Fonte, McQueen; Romeu, Højbjerg, Davis; Tadić; Long, Rodriguez
Liverpool travel to a team that has supplied them with a lot of players in the last few years. Not all have been hits, but after slow starts Lallana and Lovren have matured at Anfield and become key first-teamers.
What it will ensure is a hostile environment. Lallana in particular left St Mary’s under a cloud by forcing his transfer through, and a lot of the home crowd’s ire will be directed his way. It’s all going to make for a fiery atmosphere on Wednesday night, which is how it should be.
Sadio Mané will be a huge miss for the Reds this January as he travels to Gabon for the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal. The forward is Liverpool’s top scorer and his energetic off-the-ball runs have made life much easier for the likes of Lallana and Firmino who have exploited the space left behind.
Klopp certainly won’t miss the strange hand-ball that cost Liverpool two points at Sunderland last Monday. But really, that’s a rare black mark on what has been a fantastic season. And Liverpool will be praying that Mané can stay fit and return in February in top form.
Soothing those worries is the return of Philippe Coutinho. When Liverpool lost the Brazilian to injury in November a lot of tipsters were predicting a slide down the table.
But if anything Klopp’s side has kicked on. Now the only worry is how to integrate him back into the team now as Firmino has made the left-wing role his own. He has been superb, especially in the destruction of Stoke in December and it might be disruptive to shift him back to to centre of the attack.
Matip a Must
The other player who has been out for quite some time is Joël Matip, who missed the entire Christmas schedule. Liverpool have done quite well without the lofty Cameroonian, but had Matip been in the side for the Sunderland game they might not have relinquished their lead so easily.
The worrying thing about his injury is that it was only meant to be a few days at first, but his comeback was postponed throughout December. If Reds fans don’t see the centre-half soon they’ll start to fear the worst, especially with a crunch clash against United coming up.
Klopp to Gamble on Karius?
These days most managers start their reserve keepers in the cup matches, even when the rest of the team is made up of first picks.
But given the beating that Loris Karius’ confidence took in November Klopp might decide to stick with Mignolet for the Southampton game. Liverpool have had to wait a long time for silverware, and Klopp can’t afford to be sentimental if he decides Karius isn’t mentally ready to start at St Mary’s.
Liverpool Predicted Teamsheet:
Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Can, Henderson, Wijnaldum; Origi, Firmino Coutinho
When Will Southampton vs Liverpool Take Place?
The first leg kicks off at 19:45 GMT on Wednesday 11 January. Check out how you can watch this match on a free stream with Bet365.
Southampton vs Liverpool Match Prediction
The result isn’t going to decide the tie, but if Liverpool can grab a couple of away goals they could almost book their place in the final. The concern for Klopp though is that Liverpool have slipped up against some smaller sides this season, and Southampton are a better team than the likes of Sunderland and Burnley.
Southampton managed a 0-0 draw at home to Liverpool back in November and a repeat would set the second tie up nicely. We don’t see them repeating that trick, and think Liverpool will snatch this one 1-2 to take a commanding lead back to Anfield.