Verdict: Total goals under 3.5
Best odds: 4/6
Liverpool will host Southampton at Anfield on Saturday evening in the 35th round of the 2020-21 Premier League season, though it will actually be game No.34 for the still reigning champions after their visit to Old Trafford, which was supposed to take place last Sunday, was postponed due to Manchester United fans protesting against the club owners rather lively in and around the stadium.
It’s been a strange season for every club everywhere, but a combination of injuries, questionable refereeing decisions and an apparent fall in focus and motivation saw Liverpool lose the title they won last season in a spectacular fashion. Such falls have been seen before – not least with Chelsea in 2015-16 and Leicester City in 2016-17, but after winning the Champions League and the Premier League in successive seasons, few could have predicted the Reds standing little chance of a top-four finish with five games to play.
Be that as it may, Liverpool are now in seventh place with 54 points, seven less than Chelsea in fourth, four less than West Ham in fifth, and two less than Tottenham Hotspur in sixth. The Merseysiders may have a game in hand over all these teams, but so do neighbours Everton in eighth who are only two points behind.
It’s hard to fathom the form of Jurgen Klopp’s team at the moment. Their last six results in the league are rather confusing. They include a 0-1 home defeat to relegation-bound Fulham, a 0-1 win away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, a 0-3 triumph away to Arsenal, a 2-1 win over Aston Villa at home, a 1-1 draw away to Leeds United and the same scoreline at home against Newcastle.
Squeezed in there was also their double feature against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarterfinals which saw them leave the competition, losing 3-1 in Madrid and playing goalless draw back at Anfield.
There are no Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez or Joel Matip in the heart of defence of course. The three centre-backs won’t play again before the end of the season, the same as captain Jordan Henderson, who has just started running outside again. Funny as it may seem, the more pressing issue at the moment is whether Nathaniel Phillips will be ready, and it seems he will. Otherwise, Klopp would likely pull Fabinho back to the heart of defence again alongside Ozan Kabak.
But with Phillips starting, Fabinho will likely play in midfield with Thiago Alcantara and Georginio Wijnaldum. Forward Diogo Jota is likely to start on the bench, with Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino still ahead in the pecking order.
It’s a completely different situation for the Saints. Like Liverpool, they also have five games to play before the end of the season, and a total of three points from those would see them mathematically secure survival. Naturally, they would love to get that particular task over the line as soon as possible, and having beaten Liverpool at St. Mary’s in early January, they won’t think it impossible. But potential failure to do so again obviously wouldn’t worry them too much.
Southampton are currently 15th with 37 points, 10 more than Fulham who top the relegation zone and have played one game more. Their last-six run in the league starts with a 5-2 defeat away to leaders Manchester City. Then came a 1-2 defeat at home against Brighton and Hove Albion, a 3-2 win at home against Burnley, a disappointing 3-0 loss to 19th-place West Bromwich Albion, a 2-1 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur, and a 1-1 draw at home against Leicester City.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s team had a good run in the FA Cup this season, reaching the semifinals where they were eventually stopped by Leicester last month.
Speaking of Leicester, centre-back Jannik Vestergaard was sent off against the Foxes, but the red card was overturned on appeal and the centre-back is available to face Liverpool. However, there is a number of players ruled out for this match. Former Liverpool striker Danny Ings is one of them (hamstring), midfielder Oriol Romeu is another (ankle), as are left-back Ryan Bertrand (calf) and midfielder William Smallbone (knee). Attacking midfielder Takumi Minamino, being on loan from Liverpool, is obviously ineligible to face his parent club.
Che Adams is nailed on to lead the front line in the absence of Ings, and he’ll probably be joined by Theo Walcott and Nathan Redmond. At the back, Hasenhuttl will likely choose between Jack Stephens (a more experienced option) and Mohammed Salisu (more pace, a natural left-back) to fill in for Bertrand on the left.
Seeing Liverpool drop points at home against ‘lesser’ sides wouldn’t be too surprising anymore, but they are more likely to take this one very seriously and keep the three points for themselves. However, given their recent form upfront, it’s hard to expect too many goals.
Verdict: Total goals under 3.5
Best odds: 4/6
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