By Daniel Ghorbal
If you had offered Jurgen Klopp the chance for Liverpool to still be in with a shot of winning the Premier League title heading into final day, he would obviously snap your hand off, but circumstances around the reds’ incredible cup-winning form means that he has massive decisions to make with regards to team selection.
Having exerted so much effort and energy into Saturday’s triumphant FA cup final, the likes of Salah, Van Dijk and others picked up knocks/ will be suffering from fatigue heading to the South Coast. The trust of the squad has been key in the run in this season, with players such as Milner, Gomez and Origi all chipping in with key contributions along the way, and from the way Klopp has spoken in recent press-conferences, you get the impression these types of players will appear tonight.
Southampton’s season has been indifferent to say the least, with massively contrasting form throughout that make it difficult to summarise them as a team.
Some mightily impressive form around new-year time saw them firmly within the top half picture, taking some big scalps against the likes of Tottenham and Arsenal, whilst taking four points off Liverpool’s title challengers Manchester City.
Hassenhuttl has his side well-drilled at times, making them hard to break down whilst also carrying a big threat on the counter attack with the pace of Broja, Adams and the marauding full-backs. However, the perfect encapsulation of this side was the recent 6-0 defeat at home to Chelsea, where their side were obliterated in the first-half. Inexplicably, Saints found themselves defending one on ones relentlessly, and although a common cliche in football, it really could have been 8 or 9 and that wouldn’t have flattered Chelsea.
The streaky nature of their form paired with these occasional hammering’s means the jury is out for Hassenhuttl as we approach the end of the campaign. The Austrian manager has already said in his presser that this is Southampton’s champions league final, and after a long 9 day break following a disappointing defeat to Brentford, the motivation and fitness levels should be there for his side.
As mentioned, Liverpool will have to shuffle the pack following the exertions of the weekend and significance of games to come, so it is important that those drafted in hit the ground running and deal with the press that’ll certainly come their way.
Although Southampton have been effective against the big sides in sitting back deep, the 1-0 victory over Liverpool at home last season was a perfect example of how getting at a tired team can cause so many problems and force errors.
Set-pieces are also a key part of what the Saints do, unsurprisingly with the abilities of James Ward-Prowse from dead ball situations. There is undoubtedly nobody better than the Southampton captain, with him now sitting second in the Premier League all-time direct free-kick goals table.
Not only does he score from the free-kicks, but his ability to pick out team-mates is second to none and something Liverpool have to be switched on too. Although Klopp’s side are usually excellent at defending set-pieces, a lot of times the delivery is off of not as dangerous as it could be, but when you play Southampton you are almost guaranteed good service from the right-foot of Ward-Prowse, thus giving Liverpool more incentive to play high up the pitch and force Southampton back. Despite the tiredness, Liverpool will still dominate the ball and therefore creativity on the day is vital.
Although the goal difference question is not as prominent as it would’ve been had Man City lost and not drawn, going out there and playing with class and precision is a non-negotiable and whether or not it’s a weakened side, the onus is on the reds to go and take the game to their opposition.
With this being Southampton’s last home game of the season, an expectant crowd will be there willing on their team to have a go at Liverpool and really take the game to the FA Cup champions. Jurgen Klopp’s men simply wouldn’t be where they are if they allowed fatigue to be an excuse, but you could argue that this is the perfect time for Southampton to play them and Hassenhuttl will really want his players to thrive on that.
For Liverpool, the motivation is there knowing that a victory takes things to final day, so going about it with a manner of professionalism whilst dealing with the obvious threats of the Saints should ensure that they come away from the South Coast victorious.
Predicted Southampton team: Forster, Walker-Peters, Salisu, Bednarek, Perraud, Ward-Prowse, Romeu, Redmond, Armstrong, Broja, Adams