Sam Tighe assesses how Saints could trouble Liverpool
European champions. Ninety-seven Premier League points last season. A litany of stars from the back to attack. Taking on Liverpool in 2019 is a daunting task, and when you mix in Southampton’s bumpy start to their own campaign, the order seems even taller.
But, all that said, the Reds will travel to St Mary’s on Saturday afternoon in a strangely fallible state.
Analysis of their first two games this season – Norwich City in the Premier League, then Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup – plus Saints’ encounter with them in April, have revealed some potential cracks in the armour Ralph Hasenhüttl and his team won’t have missed.
sam tigheklopp will not have wanted midweek extra-time in a different time zone.
Fatigue? Already? It’s August!
True, the calendar does not lie, and Liverpool’s players should be in tip-top shape – but they’re not necessarily in ideal condition this weekend.
They played 120 minutes plus penalties in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday night, a game that stretched into Thursday in local time. Were it a Champions League night, they’d have been awarded the salvation of a Sunday game, but it wasn’t.
Jürgen Klopp’s plan to rotate his midfield fully hit the rocks when Naby Keïta pulled up with an injury. It forced Fabinho and Jordan Henderson into 120 minutes, the former cramping up in both legs in extra-time. Sadio Mané has been back in training for less than two weeks, post-Africa Cup of Nations.
At this stage of the season it may not count for much, but one thing Klopp will not have wanted in preparation for facing an energetic Saints side is midweek extra-time in a different time zone.
Targeting Trent Alexander-Arnold
In Saints’ last meeting with Liverpool – a 3-1 defeat in April – Klopp made the bold move of removing Trent Alexander-Arnold from the fray on the hour mark despite him bagging an assist earlier in the game.
He did it because, even with Alexander-Arnold’s offensive contribution tangible, Nathan Redmond was tearing him to bits at the other end. It was a problem threatening to destabilise Liverpool’s chances of winning.
Klopp is vividly aware that his young right-back, while brilliant, has defensive shortcomings. Towards the back end of last season, he was troubled not only by Redmond, but Cardiff City’s Nathaniel Mendez-Laing too.
Alexander-Arnold found himself on the bench for the Champions League clash with Barcelona at Camp Nou, Joe Gomez – the perceived “more solid” option – playing instead.
The trend has carried into this season, with Norwich getting some joy out of him in their opener; Jamal Lewis, Todd Cantwell and Marco Stiepermann played it around him several times and burst into space behind him.
Southampton should do as they did last time: Push Redmond into left-sided areas as often as possible and test Alexander-Arnold’s capacity. With the added bonus that that is not the side Virgil van Dijk is on, it’s Saints’ best chance of success.
sam tigheusually, you have a huge problem to solve in the form of alisson becker, arguably the world's best goalkeeper, but he's injured.
Liverpool’s defensive performance in the European Super Cup will have alarmed Klopp; Chelsea continually got in behind them at will, stretching them, as a severe disconnect between the lines emerged.
The Reds held a very high line, as they often do, but one of the vital ingredients to making that work is midfield pressure on the ball.
Between Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho they usually manage that, justifying Liverpool’s high stance, but on Wednesday the midfield was absent, so Joel Matip and co. were constantly turning and chasing as Chelsea slipped runners in over the top.
Should that disconnect in strategy occur again, Southampton can find similar joy. Ché Adams is built to chase those balls, and it’s a wise strategy for the hosts to use anyway, as they may struggle to play out from the back under pressure from Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané.
Usually, if you get past the line you still have a huge problem to solve in the form of Alisson Becker, arguably the world’s best goalkeeper, but he’s injured.
Adrián made himself a hero in the penalty shootout against Chelsea on Wednesday, but still showcased a rashness that Alisson doesn’t, and his hands weren’t anywhere near as clean – something for Saints to test with shots from range?