Liverpool continue to lead the way in the four-way battle for 3rd and 4th place in the Premier League. They do so, however, having played one game more than both Manchester clubs, meaning they cannot afford to drop points at this late stage.
Southampton’s season boils down to whether they can finish in the top half for a fourth successive year, despite dropping down from the sixth-placed finish and 63-point tally of last season. A trip to Wembley, for that unlucky defeat to Manchester United in the League Cup final, almost making up for a slightly disappointing campaign.
On their way to that final, the Saints kept this Sunday’s opponents goalless for 180 minutes, beating them 1-0 both home and away.
Liverpool’s last ten games have seen a return of six wins, two draws and two defeats, with the reds winning three of their last four games. Their last game at Anfield was disappointing as Crystal Palace came from behind to take the points. Most recently came a trip to Watford, in which Jurgen Klopp’s men were only successful because of an Emre Can wonder goal – his bicycle kick arguably the goal of the season.
Meanwhile, the Saints, who, along with Arsenal have a joint-high five matches still to play, have not won in three attempts. Those results include losses to Chelsea and Manchester City. A record of four wins and four defeats from their last ten isn’t so bad considering some of the opponents.
Away from home Southampton have won three of their last five, with defeats only coming at the hands of the league’s top two sides.
The last 12 meetings between the sides, who have been continuously interlinked both on and off the pitch in recent years, have given them five wins apiece. Yet this season, when including the cup games and a 0-0 draw at St Mary’s in November, Liverpool have found the Saints impossible to breakdown, despite an average of two goals a game in the league.
Both Jurgen Klopp and Claude Puel have been fairly rigid in their formation choices this season. The charismatic German prefers a 4-3-3 that allows his midfielders to attack and his forwards to interchange. On the other side, the 55-year-old Frenchman has routinely stuck with a 4-2-3-1, which has allowed his side to uphold a respectable defensive record.
Liverpool’s only new injury concern is Philippe Coutinho who was taken off early against Watford, although it is believed he will make the squad for Sunday. Fortunately for the Reds, Klopp was able to welcome back Adam Lallana in his place, meaning that Sadio Mane and Jordan Henderson are the only key players who remain out.
Claude Puel has had no major new injuries to deal with since the end of January when Virgil Van Dijk suffered a foot problem against Leicester; his absence has been understandably damaging but has allowed 23-year-old Jack Stephens a run in the side. Striker Charlie Austin, sidelined since December, has been the only long-term concern and he could return for the last three games of the season. The trip to Anfield has come too soon.
Match Prediction: Liverpool 2-1 Southampton
Although the Saints have been successful in keeping Liverpool at bay three times already this season, the absence of Van Dijk means that their defence is significantly weakened. At the same time, the return of Lallana and news that Coutinho should be fine means that Klopp can select an almost full-strength side.
Liverpool will still miss the pace and creativity of Mane, who has been so influential for them since he left Southampton, but should have enough attacking options to come away with another crucial win.