When you thought that it couldn´t get any more crucial and tricky up comes a match that can decide Liverpool´s fate in the quest for a top four finish in the Premier League. The Reds face Southampton away today and a defeat would men we are seven points behind Saints with twelve matches to go. A fact that could mean that we are out of the top four reckoning.
Yesterday´s results went against and also for us when Arsenal won and Manchester United lost. And today another top four rival, Tottenham, just got a draw against West Ham and subsequently dropped two points. Therefore we have a great chance of closing the gap on three top four rivals if we beat Southampton in a couple of hours. If we lose then the table will read like this: In third place Southampton with 49 points, then Arsenal on 48, Man Utd 47, Tottenham 44 and Liverpool in seventh place with 42 points. If this is the case after our match versus the Saints then it´s a huge risk that we have to kiss good-bye to any hopes of reaching a Champions league position (3rd or 4th) in the table. To catch one or even two teams will then be very difficult but to leapfrog three, the requirement for reaching fourth place, will probably be too much to ask.
A win would on the other hand make sure we are just one point behind Southampton, one ahead of Tottenham and just two behind Man Utd and three behind Arsenal. Then it´s really game on.
Quite a few factors indicates an even contest at St Mary´s and it will take a perfect performance from Liverpool to grab the three points. For starters both teams are in fine form and boasts almost the same record in recent times. Southampton have six wins, two draws and one defeat in their last nine league games, collecting 20 points. Liverpool has six wins and three draws, gaining 21 points. And the fact that so much is at stake none of the sides are going to give in easily. On the contrary, it will be a hard-fought encounter for 90 minutes and if there is a winner then it will probably be by the odd goal.
Recent statistics doesn´t give anyone an upper hand. In fact, Liverpool and Southampton seem to take turns in winning against each other. Liverpool has claimed two wins in a row, before that Southampton did the same and prior to that the teams won three each often enough with different winners every time. It´s been twelve cup and league games since the last draw between them. If statistics have their say then there will be a winner today taking a major step towards finishing in top four.
Southampton has surprised a lot of people this season. After losing five major players in the summer, among them the current Liverpool trio Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert, many predicted a relegation battle for the Saints. But the south-coast club did the opposite and has been in the top section of the table all season. And still being there after 25 matches they will surely going the distance even if pressure, injuries and suspensions will make them lose out on fourth in the end. But right now Southampton is certainly in the mix and at this point a really hard team to beat.
Can Liverpool do it? Of course. But to do it the Reds must be at their attacking best because we face the meanest defence in the league. Southampton has shipped just 17 goals in 25 games and a mere eight in 13 matches on home soil. Liverpool need to be extremely efficient when chances do appear. Especially as opportunities will be few and far between.
At the same time our new defensive strength must be upheld. If we concede then a brace is needed for a victory. A tall order indeed. But Liverpool is a lot stronger offensively these days with Daniel Sturridge back from injury, Jordon Ibe showing great potential, Raheem Sterling freed of some goal-scoring responsibility and Mario Balotelli stepping up. And if Lallana, Lambert and Lovren get some game time they´ll surely be eager to put one over their former club. Not because they dislike Southampton, just to show that their decision to move to Liverpool was the right one.
I expect a cagey clash with both teams waiting for the opponent to make mistakes. Hopefully Liverpool isn´t the biggest culprit.
This is my team suggestion (in a 3-1-4-2 formation):
GK: Simon Mignolet. RB: Dejan Lovren. CB: Martin Skrtel. LB: Mamadou Sakho. DM: Emre Can. RWB: Jordon Ibe. CM: Jordan Henderson. AM: Adam Lallana. LWB: Alberto Moreno. CF: Mario Balotelli. CF: Daniel Studrridge.
I would bench Philippe Coutinho, he has been a bit off form lately and can do with a rest. Raheem Sterling should start from the bench one more time after his injury. Dejan Lovren has been frozen out for a long period and is now slowly coming back into the team. I think he is ready to show that he still is a good defender, especially at his former happy hunting ground.
It´s do or die today, let´s keep hopes alive as:
We Go Again.