The next stage in Liverpool’s quest for the Champions League is arguably the toughest test in their run-in, with the visit of Southampton on Sunday followed by a trip to West Ham and a final-day hosting of Middlesbrough. Seven points from the last nine should be more than sufficient.
The Saints have already beaten Liverpool in both games of the EFL Cup semi-final this season, before they lost the final to Manchester United, whilst the reverse league fixture at St Mary’s ended 0-0.
A victory for the home team this weekend, however, could be pivotal. By the time Manchester United kick-off at the Emirates against Arsenal, Liverpool could be seven points clear of them; at this stage, and with favourable fixtures left to play, Liverpool would have one foot in the Champions League already. United would then focus entirely on the Europa League, where they are likely to face Ajax in the final.
Philippe Coutinho, who was taken off in the opening exchanges at Vicarage Road on Monday night with dead leg, is expected to be able to play this weekend, whilst Adam Lallana will surely return to the starting eleven against his former side.
He was the man to replace Coutinho at Watford, and his class and ability shone through time and time again, despite coming back in after a few weeks out injured. He has been missed.
The stand-out moment in a largely disappointing game for the neutral came when Emre Can scored what many believe is the goal of the season. He will certainly keep his place after producing a good all-round performance.
The German midfielder has been in talks over a new contract for some weeks now, but with his performances on the pitch ever-improving after a slow start to the season, it will surely not be long before he signs.
“I am quite positive (that Can will sign a new deal),” Jurgen Klopp said when he was quizzed on the matter at his press conference, adding, “Keeping good players makes sense, and Emre is a good player”.
As he has done several times before, Klopp also used his time with the assembled journalists to promote the importance of the Anfield crowd.
“Our plan for Sunday is to use Anfield. For some it is a nervy situation, but we need to be brave, enjoy the game and use the crowd.
“I understand absolutely that people are getting nervous but Anfield is always more than good. What we’re going for is for all of us,” he said.
“There is positive pressure [and] we know about the quality of the opponent”.
The German also confirmed that there is no update on the fitness of Jordan Henderson, with the club captain likely to miss the final three games. Lucas, though, is in good form and has even managed two assists in his last three games, taking him above Paul Pogba in the assists chart for the season.
Missing Henderson is nothing new, and Liverpool have shown they are capable of coping without him. Sadio Mane, too, is a long-term absentee, but his absence has been compensated for in the past as well.
The game could see Liverpool almost achieve this season’s objective of coming at least fourth. A point would be no disgrace, but all three and this could be the game that people look back on as the one which cemented the Reds place in Europe’s elite for the next campaign.
WHEN DOES THE GAME KICK OFF?
The match starts at 13:30 GMT and is live on Sky Sports.
WHO IS THE REFEREE?
Bobby Madley – the Yorkshire official has already done 32 games this season, and has produced four red cards in that time.
He oversaw Liverpool’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham at White Hart Lane, the 4-3 defeat at Bournemouth, and most recently the 3-1 win over Arsenal in early March.
He also was the referee when Southampton played Arsenal – a 2-1 defeat for the Saints at the Emirates. He has not refereed them since.
Liverpool have played against Southampton three times so far this season, and have had thirty seven shots, but are yet to score a goal.
Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Matip, Milner; Lucas, Can, Wijnaldum; Lallana, Firmino, Coutinho
Southampton: Forster; Soares, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand; Romeu, Davis, Ward-Prowse; Redmond, Gabbiadini, Tadic
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