The wheels have fallen off our Premier League title challenge. The weekend’s home defeat to Swansea City was annoying and frustrating. It’s left me personally in a bit of a funk and I’m sure I’m not alone. I want Liverpool to win the title more than anything else, so it’s difficult to get over such a disappointing result that should never have been allowed to happen. Happen it did, however, and now the players have to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get ready to fight on another front.
The EFL Cup isn’t the most exciting competition in the world, but now we sit just one match away from making the final it’s pretty vital we get there. If the season isn’t to descend into mediocrity and have fans spend the next few months talking about the inane and boring ‘Fight For Fourth’ then we simply have to beat Southampton. The idea of losing to Manchester United in the final doesn’t bear countenance right now, so instead I’ll have a look at which Liverpool team might line-up and what bets you should think about placing.
On the one hand we’re in a position right now where pretty much all of our first-choice players are available for selection. Philippe Coutinho continues his return from injury and managed just shy of an hour against Swansea before the manager decided to withdraw him. Joel Matip has been cleared to play by FIFA and it was only his match fitness that stopped Jürgen Klopp from selecting him against the Swans at the weekend. Nathaniel Clyne needed an injection to get over the pain of his damaged rib but it was enough to get him onto the pitch.
On the other hand, none of those players are back to full fitness yet. Added to that there continues to be a problem with Jordan Henderson’s heel that is being ‘managed’. Klopp confirmed in his pre-match press conference that the heel injury is ‘different but similar’ to the one that the captain suffered last term. His post-match recovery is not quite the same as for the rest of the team and it will be a concern if that carries on being an issue. There’s also the Sadio Mané shaped elephant in the room that has yet to be dealt with in any kind of convincing manner.
So does the manager go for a strong side that isn’t fully fit, or a weakened side that has the benefit of being match-ready? It’s a tricky question for the German to answer. My instinct is that he goes for the former. The only way that Coutinho and Matip get themselves back to match fitness is by playing actual matches, after all. We need to get Adam Lallana back into the middle of the park and keep Roberto Firmino playing central. My team would be: Karius – Clyne – Matip – Lovren – Milner – Henderson – Wijnaldum – Lallana – Coutinho – Sturridge – Firmino.
Virgil van Dijk is arguably one of the best defenders in the Premier League right now. I’m amazed Liverpool didn’t go for him when he left Scotland but that’s a question for another time. The Saints captain was forced from the field with an injury when Southampton beat the defending Premier League champions Leicester City 3-0 at the weekend and he’s a doubt for their trip to Anfield. I will never wish an injury on a player but if he could be ‘not quite ready’ for this one then that would be good news for the Reds.
If he does miss out then it’s likely that Jack Stephens will come in to replace him. The England Under-21 player was Claude Puel’s go-to man when van Dijk limped off on Sunday. Steven Davis has missed Southampton’s last few matches with a knock but he seems likely to recover, with Dusan Tadic and Ryan Bertrand also likely to remain in the team for this one. Nathan Redmond caused us all sorts of problems at St. Mary’s and the bad news is that he’s likely to do the same thing at Anfield, too. It will be a strong line-up from a Saints side that will fancy their chances of hitting us whilst we’re struggling.
It’s important to avoid hyperbole and suggest that one small thing is responsible for everything, but Liverpool have only won one game since Sadio Mané left for the African Cup of Nations. Having emerged from the Christmas period unbeaten and sticking within five points of league leaders Chelsea, we’ve since lost to Southampton in the League Cup, scraped past Plymouth Argyle and picked up two points from nine in the Premier League, slipping to ten points behind Antonio Conte’s side. In short, our form is absolutely dire.
Southampton are getting exactly the sort of mixed results that you’d expect to see from a mid-table side. After beating us in the cup they promptly lost 1-0 away to Burnley in the league. They beat Norwich City 1-0 in their FA Cup Third Round replay before thumping Leicester at home. Their form may be mixed but it’s certainly more reliable than ours is. The only good news is that their poor results have come away from home, including a 3-0 loss to our Blue brethren from across the park. Is more Mersey misery on its way?
I feel a little bit as though this game is going to go one of two ways: We’ll remember what made us such a great team to watch earlier in the season and this will kick-start the last few months of our campaign, or else we’ll continue to struggle. Here are my main betting tips:
Keeping Things Tight
Jürgen Klopp reportedly had a de-brief with his players in the wake of the Swansea defeat. There’s nothing new in that in and of itself as the manager always discusses the match after the fact. The difference is, however, that this time it was in a meeting area rather than the Melwood dressing room. The German showed the players where we’ve been going wrong recently and drew their attention to fact that it’s a team job to defend, not just the back four and goalkeeper.
If they’ve listened to him then I think they’ll keep things tight at the back. Southampton will have seen what Swansea did at the weekend and will be coming to Anfield with the intention of sitting deep and making us try to break them down. It worked for the Welsh side so the Saints will fancy their chances of getting it to work for them. Under 1.5 Goals is 3/1 and that could see the game go to extra-time; something I don’t think is out of the realms of the possible. It’s worth a punt.
Method Of Victory
Away goals don’t kick in until after extra-time, so if it finishes after 90 with the teams level on aggregate then we’ll be in for another thirty minutes of play. It’s 4/1 for Any Team To Win In Extra-Time and that looks long to me. We aren’t playing the free-flowing football that we have in the past so 1-0 or 2-1 doesn’t strike me as being an outrageous prediction. If you want slightly longer odds then it’s 11/1 for Southampton To Win In Extra-Time and I will have a small bet on that.
I’m all about the long odds and I can definitely envisage a world in which this game goes to penalties. The bookies don’t agree with me, though, so you can get some very favourable offers for that being the outcome. It is as long as 28/1 for Liverpool To Win On Penalties, which is just silly money. We’ve gone to replays numerous times in cup matches in recent weeks, after all. If you don’t think we’re confident enough to win by that method right now then you might prefer the 14/1 available for Either Team To Win On Penalties.
Goal Scorer Bets?
If it’s going to go to extra-time, which I think it might, then someone’s going to need to score for Liverpool. Daniel Sturridge is the top scorer for the whole competition, having netted four times so far. He’s not in form at the moment and there’s no guarantee that he’ll even start, but if he does then 6/5 for Sturridge to Score Anytime is worth a punt. Roberto Firmino is 13/8 to Score Anytime and that looks a touch more attractive to me. Nathan Redmond is 7/2 to Score Anytime, repeating his heroics from the first-leg.
This is such a difficult one to call. I’m going to offer you one long-shot option and one with shorter odds, just to keep things exciting. For that reason I’m going to opt for Firmino as Anytime Goalscorer @ 13/8 as chief tip number one. He netted twice against Swansea so might just have re-found his shooting boots. I also reckon that this won’t be settled in the ninety minutes, so I’m going for Either Team To Win On Penalties at 14/1. Let’s just get to the final, Reds.