Southampton Preview: Change is Slow, But That Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Win Along the Way

If you weren’t already aware that Jurgen Klopp won’t be able to fix a Liverpool side ailing terribly at both ends of the pitch with a wave of his hand and a flash of his smile following the scoreless draw with Tottenham Hotspur that last weekend, you’re probably in on it now after another Thursday night in Europe ended with the Reds sharing the spoils.

While we’ve already seen promising tweaks by the German begin to promote some positive play in his charges, substantial change is always slow. That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t win along the way. It’s with that squarely in mind that looking towards this weekend’s meeting with Southampton brings the usual mix of nerves and excitement as the 48-year old goes in search of his first win since planting his flag at Anfield — to be fair, he should already have had one. How this team didn’t beat Rubin Kazan beggars belief…

Through hook or crook, the Russian side hung on to snag a point; you’d think that weathering 35-shots and giving up only a single goal would be quite the feat to accomplish, but Liverpool did themselves no favours by only troubling the ‘keeper with a measly 25% of them. A ton of chances might make for an entertaining match, but if you’re not taking at least a few of them you’re probably not picking up too many points. However, a clinical, match-fit striker would have benefited greatly from the intense pressure the hosts rained down during the second half, but that only makes the news that Daniel Sturridge is more than likely to miss out yet again all the more frustrating.

Although Klopp refused to rule the 26-year old out of Sunday’s match, he was frank in saying that his injury was day to day and not getting much better. Christian Benteke, who hit the post during his half-hour run out against the Tartars, could be fit enough to lead the line from the off against the Saints after returning from a hamstring injury, but the Belgian doesn’t offer the same kind of explosive pace to run in behind defenders or the kind of poachers instinct that makes Sturridge such a threat in front of the net. That, of course, is exactly where this match is going to be won.

For Liverpool, that will be complicated by an in form Jose Fonte signing a new contract that will see the Portuguese defender stay on the South Coast for the next three-years. His partnership with Celtic transplant Virgil van Dijk has been looking promising even if their goals against ratio doesn’t really reflect just how effective they’ve been together. While first choice ‘keeper Fraser Forster remains a long-term absentee, understudy Maarten Stekelenburg could be fit enough to replace stand-in shot-stopper Kelvin Davis with boss Ronald Koeman confident that the Dutchman will be ready for the weekend.

Level on 13-points, but two places above us in the standings on goal difference, Southampton visit Merseyside looking like a side on the way up after their own slow start to the season. Surprise wins over the likes of Swansea City and Chelsea just before the break may have been tempered somewhat by the draw with Leicester City last weekend, but when you consider that the Foxes are only three-points off of second place and have scored more than double the goals that the Reds have this season and sharing the spoils with Claudio Ranieri’s side no longer seems like such a bad thing.

Klopp may have his side looking more organized at the back, but they’re a far way off from being air-tight. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who made a number of clutch saves at White Hart Lane on Saturday, and defender Mamadou Sakho, who put in a monstrous performance in the Europa League, may be the only reasons that the German is yet to suffer a defeat since taking over for Brendan Rodgers and they’ll do well to keep the Saint’s at bay. Graziano Pelle has developed a bit of knack for scoring against the big boys this year, following up his memorable double against Manchester United at the end of September by chipping in with a strike against Chelsea, and Koeman will be hoping that the Italian’s penchant for the big occasion will offset the absences of both Jay Rodriguez and Shane Long.

Thankfully the Reds have no fresh injury problems heading into this one with both Benteke and Roberto Firmino returning to action on Thursday night. While Klopp isn’t expected to tinker with his side too much, if fit enough, the Brazilian could come in to replace Adam Lallana after the 26-year old put in a gut-busting 90-minutes against Kazan on Thursday. Maybe a little extra Samba flair is what this team needs to get them firing again; at the very least, it could get Philippe Coutinho back to his old self again, and that in itself could change the complexion of the game entirely.

Steven McMillan

Can’t find up from down or tell black from white, but doesn’t care cause it’s all Red to him. When he’s not pissing and moaning about all things Liverpool, he’s chatting nonsense with his multiple personalities — or his “entourage” as he likes to call them.