The Anfield Wrap’s match preview before Southampton v Liverpool in the 2022-2023 Premier League finale at St. Mary’s…
SOUTHAMPTON are a strange side.
This season they have: held Arsenal to a point in both fixtures, beaten Chelsea home and away, drawn at Old Trafford, put three past Spurs in a dramatic 3-3 comeback, and they put up a good fight against The Reds at Anfield in November.
That’s probably because The Saints do have some very good players; but they have also been the worst team in the league this season, and their current points total of 24 is one of the lowest the Premier League has ever seen.
Mohamed Salisu, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, James Ward-Prowse, Joe Aribo, Romeo Lavia, (who Liverpool are now being linked with), and Che Adams are all pretty good footballers — Premier League quality footballers. Strong Premier League clubs will be eyeing up The Saints’ relegated players who are looking to keep playing football in the top division.
The problem for Ruben Selles is only one forward features on that list; only Wolves have scored fewer goals than Southampton this season; in their squad, only Ward-Prowse and Adams have scored more than four goals this campaign. Their next highest scoring forward after Adams is Walcott who has two goals.
But The Saints did cause Liverpool problems at Anfield; they equalised to make it 1-1 in the first half, and forced some great saves out of Alisson in the second period. They may well cause problems on Sunday as well. Liverpool must also be careful not to give any silly freekicks away in dangerous areas, because James Ward-Prowse is lethal.
Southampton play nice football and they will want to finish the season in front of their home crowd on a high; but when all else fails, they tend to send 6ft7 Paul Onuachu on and knock it long, getting plenty of crosses in. And who can blame them? No footballer on the planet is winning a header against that man.
The stats do reflect all of these issues; Southampton are actually 13th in the league for xG conceded, but are rock bottom for xG scored. The Saints are also in the bottom three for xG conceded from set pieces, and their offensive corner xG is also towards the bottom end of the table. But they complete more passes per game than several teams, including all the other relegation candidates, and even strong sides like Brentford. Selles’s side are also up there for counter-pressures.
As for Liverpool, I am hoping to see several improvements from the Villa game. The press was off, the defending was jittery at times, and the crosses were, for the most part, painful. Far too many floaters; indeed, the one goal Liverpool did score was from a smart, nippy cross.
The Reds did also face hard lines, not least two huge calls unfairly going against them, and arguably a third with the penalty shout on Henderson. Yes, it was soft, but Villa were being awarded soft fouls every five minutes, as were Brentford three weeks ago. It should be consistent. And of course, from Villa, the time wasting, the shithousery, the match vandalism, were off the scale.
It would also be fair to say that Liverpool were slightly distracted, or perhaps feeling the pressure more than usual. There was a feeling of ‘we can’t lose’ on an emotional day of farewells, and Villa could not have made life any more difficult. It almost had a cup final feel about it, in a weird way, but Southampton on the final day will most probably be a contrast to that feeling.
More than anything, it was quite simply a case where four out of five of Liverpool’s most important attacking players happened to have off-days. I would say Gakpo, out of all of Liverpool’s offensive threats, was the only player who didn’t have a frustrating (albeit painful) afternoon, with Tyrone Mings’ studs quite possibly still impaled into his ribs.
In the end, The Reds fought well and showed good resilience to salvage a draw; more so than the 2014-15 side that succumbed to the pressure for Steven Gerrard’s last two games.
We may well see a side that looks as if there’s been a huge weight lifted off their collective shoulders. Not only in the sense of there not being emotional farewells daunting and distracting them but also, now that the race for Champions League is finally officially over, The Reds can just relax and enjoy their football against a team that is already relegated. That will also be a refreshing feeling for us fans.
In Firmino’s last ever game for Liverpool, it would be great to see him start, assuming he is fit to do so. As mentioned, Gakpo was the best player in the last game and deserves to keep his place. So, I would play both; the master and the apprentice.
But I don’t think that’s what Klopp will do; I don’t predict many changes to the lineup, just a couple switches that are combination of a) what I would like to see and b) what Klopp is likely to consider making.
Predicted 11: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Tsimikas; Fabinho, Elliott, Jones; Salah, Gakpo, Jota