Southampton have a real test on their hands come 3pm on Saturday.
They travel up the M6 to face a Liverpool side bang in form, in the hopes of disrupting the Reds’ so far 100% record in the Premier League, whilst needing the 3 points to propel themselves towards or into the top half of the table, and inject some much needed momentum to avoid any repeats of last season’s troubles.
Mark Hughes’ words to his side after their disappointing draw to Brighton on Monday were to improve their game management after watching late strikes from Shane Duffy and Glenn Murray cancel out Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s drive and Danny Ings’s penalty at St Mary’s.
He told Saints correspondents after the game: “We got the 2-0 lead and you expect that to be game over. They put a good ball into a good area and it got them back in the game and gave them encouragement.
“Had we kept the two-goal advantage for 10-15 minutes longer, I think we would have seen the game out comfortably. The momentum shifted and you have to be ready to take advantage when it goes in your favour or dig in when it goes the other way.”
“We need to be better in killing the game and being more street-wise. Overall, it’s a disappointing result but there are things we can work on.”
The South-coast club now face their toughest test of the season. Not only are Liverpool on a 5-game win streak in the league, but they’re fresh off 2 excellent performances against Tottenham and Paris Saint Germain respectively, where they dominated proceedings against Spurs to reap their 2 rewarded efforts for controlling possession, and were persistent in going forward against the French champions to forge out 3 well-worked goals in their Champions League curtain opener.
It will be essential that the Red ‘n’ Whites absorb the advances of Liverpool attacks before forging out opportunities for themselves, and will need a clinical edge in taking advantage of the chances given to them.
With that being said, Jurgen Klopp will field many of the players who played in their Tuesday night triumph over PSG, and for his so-far solid defence in particular, fatigue may hit during the latter stages of the match; this is when the Saints will need to be switched on and capitalise on any mistakes made. This could prove to be their best chance of stealing a result from this encounter.
Southampton weren’t terrible against Brighton last time out however, so should name the same starting XI, albeit there are any late injury scares on matchday.
One to watch: Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg
Not only did Hojbjerg score the screamer to kick the Brighton encounter into life, he was key in controlling the midfield when things were beginning to look hairy for the Saints.
Breaking up play and distributing key passes forward, the 23-year-old will be needed in order to stop the advances of forward-flying midfielders like Naby Keita and Georginio Wijnaldum getting forward and creating chances for the Reds’ formidable front three, whilst also being on hand to begin passages of play vital for getting the Saints into the final third. And who knows? Maybe the Dane can pop in another cracker to make it 3 goals in 3 games for him.
Prediction – Liverpool 3 -1 Southampton
Ultimately, this could be a tie the Saints have to weather the storm to prevent being blown away, if Liverpool’s most recent encounters are anything to go by. Resistance will be key to Hughes’ style of play to stop the ruthless Reds putting in goal after goal, but his players may find a few chances to get into advanced positions to possibly squeeze a goal or two.
(Quote credits: Southampton Football Club)