IS there a noun for feeling simultaneously excited at the prospect of an event and yet dreading it in equal measure?
The Germans surely have such a word.
This is all Liverpool games for me now. This my life.
It is hard, without the benefit of hindsight, to appreciate the degree to which we as Liverpool fans are living on a knife’s edge at present.
I was thinking about poor, old Tottenham earlier. Just a few weeks ago they’d moved within less than a handful of points of ourselves and Manchester City. They were very much in the title race. Now look at the schmucks; 18 points behind us. Far from sure they’ll even qualify for Champions League football next term.
Whatever happens from here on in, Liverpool will emerge from this campaign with heads held high. Their haul of 79 points is 9.5 points off the equivalent highest total in the club’s history. If Liverpool get just 10 points from their remaining six games it will be a total bettered by only seven teams in the history of the English top flight.
We are already four points better off than we were in the entirety of last season and we are thus far matching last campaign’s run in the Champions League. These are heady times.
Neither The Reds or rivals Manchester City are playing with particular panache at this stage. There have been moments of true excellence in recent weeks.
City will point to their 6-0 drubbing of Chelsea, Liverpool felt deep satisfaction in the displays that saw Watford beaten 5-0 and Bayern 3-1 on their own turf. The bread and butter though has been the ground-out results.
Liverpool have now won five of their last six matches, and most of them have felt like very hard work indeed. None less so than the dramatic, last-gasp win over Spurs at the weekend.
Ignore the narrative that cries “fluke” at that outcome. Liverpool took control of, lost control of for a period, and then reasserted mastery of a football match. That the denouement felt fortuitous – because of Hugo Lloris’s error – obscures the reality.
Liverpool scored because, a couple of nerve-shredding Tottenham breakouts aside, they had gathered themselves in the game following the visitors equaliser and had nigh on camped on the edge of Spurs’ box.
Klopp noted in his press conference this week that the winning goal was born of a routine straight from the training ground. Few will have been listening, but when faced with an immovable deep defence, playing the percentages is sometimes the only way to break through.
A five-day gap between the final whistle at Anfield on Sunday and Friday night’s kick off down at Southampton will have provide enough respite for Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp to have enjoyed the training time to prepare for their next challenge.
Southampton are still somewhat mired in the league – 16th and still not out of the relegation conversation. Their recent form though has provided grounds for optimism and is indecently timed from a Liverpool perspective.
The Saints have won three of their last four in the league, taking the scalps of Brighton, Tottenham and Fulham. They also made beating them (3-2) heavy work for Man United at Old Trafford, a month ago.
At Brighton last week, coach Hassenhuttl, switched from his favoured three at the back system to a conventional four but was still able to engineer a narrow victory at Brighton. They have opened up a five-point gap on third from bottom Cardiff and may feel they can breathe enough now to put on a relaxed and confident performance in front of their own fans.
Southampton will come at Liverpool, encouraged by what will be a somewhat expectant partisan crowd, under the lights, live on primetime Friday night TV. It will feel like the big game it most definitely is but with perhaps more distractions surrounding it now than Liverpool would ideally have liked.
Klopp will ask his lads to cut out the background noise. Southampton are just another football team not us as good as us standing in our way. We must push them aside.
Ordinarily the Liverpool boss would have one eye on the imminent first leg Champions League game with Porto. But that’s five days and a lifetime hence. Again the scheduling has been kind and Klopp will not have to worry too much about freshness.
For Spurs last Sunday he opted to start his captain, Jordan Henderson, ahead of emerging leading light, Fabinho. It was a move that didn’t exactly pay off. Henderson did not have his best game and Liverpool’s level markedly improved when Fabinho entered the fray as a substitute for the skipper. Fabinho surely starts at St Mary’s.
Yet again, a Liverpool starting lineup can be confidently predicted, save for the two in central midfield berths. Given Southampton’s recent revival and confidence, Klopp will expect them to not be passive and don the mantle of the away side as so many lower-level sides do on their own grounds against this powerful Liverpool team. More of a war than a siege will be anticipated.
To that end, expect the Liverpool manager to go with a more warrior-like midfield. This means less chance of a recall for the likes of Adam Lallana, Xherdan Shaqiri, or even Naby Keita and likely starts for two from James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum.
A few weeks ago we spied this fixture, sandwiched between testing games against Tottenham and Chelsea, and saw only an away banker. It now looks like something quite different.
But, although Southampton are feeling much better about themselves these days, Liverpool too have reason for confidence – with four league wins in five, including three on the bounce.
The Reds are building up a head of steam again and just in the nick of time.
Predicted 11: Alisson; Trent, Matip, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Milner; Salah, Firmino, Mane
Kick off: 8pm, Friday
Referee: Paul Tierney
Odds by Redsbet: Southampton 13-2, Draw 7-2, Liverpool 20-49
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“Just because Salah’s not scoring doesn’t mean teams aren’t terrified of him, and that frees Mane up to do what he’s doing.” 👏
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) April 3, 2019