Match Preview: Liverpool v. Southampton, 12.01.12

Christopher Lee

Liverpool host Southampton at Anfield to open the year's final month, with the guests looking to boost themselves out of the relegation zone and the hosts still trying to find their footing as the season nears the midway point.

Depending on who you ask, Liverpool have either already started or are just about to start a stretch that will, in many regards, be season-defining. "Winnable" points there for the taking, with Liverpool's only task to finally start accumulating them. Easy enough, right? Away trips to Swansea and Spurs were always going to be tricky--if not downright difficult--but now Brendan Rodgers' squad has a chance to put the early season disappointments behind them and finish the first half of the campaign on an important run.

Ignoring recent history, the month really does hold promise for a club that's been points-deficient thus far; trips to Upton Park and the Britannia are the biggest challenges in league, and the date with Udinese in Italy this coming Thursday will determine Liverpool's European fate for the season. Beyond that, it's a cluster of matches that Liverpool should approach with winning in mind but not assumed as the only possible outcome. We've seen that before, and it's not pretty.

Southampton's visit brings with it the temptation to assume that a Liverpool win is all but a certainty--newly-promoted, in the relegation zone, dismal away record. But they're also in the midst of their best stretch of the season, unbeaten in their last four and winning 3-1 at QPR, followed up by a 2-0 victory over Newcastle at home. Their early-season performances were positive but the result never came, and they've now managed to draw within a point of Sunderland and Aston Villa, and just four off Liverpool.

Manager Nigel Adkins should have a full squad to choose from tomorrow, with Danny Fox expected back from a knee injury. He's selected the same starting eleven dating back to the draw with Swansea--Paolo Gazzniga in goal, Nathaniel Clyne, Maya Yoshida, Jose Fonte, and Luke Shaw across the back, Morgan Schneiderlin, Jack Cork, Gaston Ramirez, and Adam Lallana supporting from the midfield, and Jason Puncheon and Rickie Lambert up top. For all their defensive frailties earlier in the season, Adkins' squad has been able to score more than a few of their own, and Lambert leads the charge with six in league.

For Liverpool:

Reina
Wisdom Skrtel Agger Johnson
Allen Sahin
Suso
Shelvey Suarez Assaidi

The third Premier League match within the week is bound to leave a few unable to feature in all three; Brendan Rodgers selected the same eleven on Sunday and Wednesday, and while he'd be able to do that again tomorrow, I doubt all parties involved are rested enough to do so. The biggest injury news is that Lucas is back in the squad, leaving Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini as the only long-term injuries. Also, Joe Cole's back, but...yeah.

Since I'm 0-2 this week, I figured I'd try to be wrong three times in a row guessing that Andre Wisdom is back in at right-back. Maybe it makes more sense here given the opposition and the player's fitness, and having him in would leave Stewart Downing out and Glen Johnson over on the left. There doesn't seem to be any compelling reason to have Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel rested, as both have maintained a fairly high level over the past few weeks. If Wisdom's unavailable, I'd expect to see what we have twice already this week rather than Jack Robinson involved despite the youngster's promise.

Lucas' return would ideally come with an immediate start and return to the type of form that had him as one of the world's best last season, but we're going to have to be much, much more patient. He'll likely get a few minutes at most, with at least one of Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson, and Steven Gerrard. Allen's probably the one most in need of rest, but given Rodgers' preference to play him at every chance I'd guess he plays again. Rotating in Nuri Sahin and Suso would be welcomed to round things out, with neither having a particularly large part to play recently.

Start with Luis Suarez and fill in the other two spots--in this case I'll guess for JonathanJoseph on the right and Oussama Assaidi in his first Premier League start, knowing full well that it'll probably be Raheem Sterling and Jose Enrique again. There's a chance for Assaidi if Enrique drops back into the left-back slot, which would be far more preferred than Stewart Downing getting another start. Anywhere.

The 3:00PM GMT/10:00AM EST kickoff time leaves us with few live viewing options, as only those with a FoxSoccer2Go subscription will be able to watch. Fox Soccer Plus will have a delayed showing at 2:00PM EST, but otherwise we're left to scramble to follow the match as it's happening. We'll still have team sheets an hour before kickoff in the matchday thread, which will run after the overnight post and will have any options for following by radio stream as well.

Hope you all have a nice end to the week, and that the weekend starts with a Liverpool win.

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