WILL DYER (@w2dyer) gives us his view on Southampton's second trip to Anfield this year. Saints nicked a 1-0 victory back in January to set up their EFL Cup final, can Liverpool take vengeance and march on to third place?
Liverpool v Southampton | Sunday 13:30 | Sky Sports 1
Liverpool’s 1-0 win at Vicarage Road on Monday night thoroughly solidified their top four claims. Only one of 55 teams on the 69-point mark or higher at this stage of the season has failed to finish in the Champions League qualification places.
It was a drab game made memorable by Emre Can’s spectacular bicycle kick. Jürgen Klopp’s men have now won three away games on the bounce at Watford, West Brom and Stoke, stark contrast to their form earlier in the season on the road and against sides of this calibre.
The Reds’ last home game was less successful, however. Two weeks ago, Crystal Palace returned to South London with all three points thanks to a Christian Benteke double that enabled the Eagles to come from 1-0 down to win at Anfield for the third successive season.
Prior to that defeat Liverpool had been in rather good form at home; W4-D2-L0 since the last day of January. That included wins over Everton, Tottenham and Arsenal and a draw with Chelsea. However, the preceding games were less enjoyable for the home faithful.
Southampton won 1-0 at Anfield on the 25th of January, knocking the hosts out of the EFL Cup at the semi-final stage. It was also a win sandwiched between both Swansea and Wolves triumphs on Merseyside as Liverpool lost three home games in the space of a week.
The manner of Saints victory was very predictable. They defended deep and hit the Reds on the counter but they could afford to do so with the 1-0 aggregate lead at kick-off. Since that bad spell Liverpool have mostly managed to overcome these game-plans.
Palace’s victory was almost a carbon copy of Southampton’s but it was masterminded by Sam Allardyce, a manager renowned for these tactics. I don’t think we’ll see a similar approach by Saints this time around, the visitors having nothing to play for compared to a Wembley cup final in the previous fixture so I think we can expect them to be a little more adventurous.
Sitting on 41 points after 33 games, Southampton have been a little disappointing in the league this term. At the same stage last year they had already hauled in 50 points.
In their last 13 games in all competitions since winning at Anfield, they’ve recorded W4-D2-L7 and seven of those have been against bottom half clubs. The reasons for that form are plain for all to see.
The continued absence of Virgil van Dijk has started to take it’s toll. Although Jack Stephens and Maya Yoshida have done a great job covering the Dutch talisman and the departure of long-term servant Jose Fonte, the cracks have been widening.
Nothing to Play For
Charlie Austin remains side-lined and for half a dozen games so was Manolo Gabbiadini. Injuries aside though, Claude Puel was certainly focusing his efforts on success in the EFL Cup final, which you cannot argue with.
I believe Liverpool have shown in recent games that they are breeding a winning culture again and should be title challengers next season. For now, they appear to be in a three horse race for third place, although Jose Mourinho would have you believe otherwise.
Having that drive of an end goal should stand them in good stead here whilst Saints are restricted to a best-case eighth place. As a result, I’m backing Liverpool to win and over 2.5 goals at 11/8 with PaddyPower, 16 of Liverpool’s 25 wins in all competitions have seen three or more goals scored.
Liverpool v Southampton – Liverpool to win and Over 2.5 goals (11/8 PaddyPower)