The draw at Swansea has taken on a bit more significance than I expected over the last few days. Not necessarily from the squad or the manager, all of whom acknowledged the concerns but came away feeling the result was a fair one, but from supporters who have been irked by Liverpool's inability to stay on the front foot with a lead rather than revert to the passive, defensive style that we've seen in the second half of each of Liverpool's four Premier League matches.
So tomorrow takes on added importance given that it's at Anfield, it's against an opponent that can potentially be overwhelmed, and it's kicking off a run of fixtures that are widely viewed (at least in league) as ones Liverpool should expect to win. Expecting wins and getting them have been strangers in Liverpool's recent history, but with all the talk of this year being different and belief throughout the squad, we'd be forgiven for thinking that our expectations might actually line up with reality this year. At least until they don't, then we're comfortable in our misery once more.
Southampton don't arrive tomorrow in hopes of making sure Liverpool keep feeling the warm fuzzies, of course--they've had a decent start to the season, winning their opener at West Brom and sandwiching two draws around a narrow loss at Norwich City. Mauricio Pochettino's side romped in the 5-1 win at Barnsley in the League Cup, but aside from that victory they've only managed to score twice on the season, failing to do so in each of their last two league matches.
While goalscoring might be of concern, fitness won't be, as Pochettino should be able to choose from a mostly full-strength squad. Luke Shaw came off against West Ham but should be ready to start, leaving only Danny Fox and Tandari Lee as absentees. They've been somewhat consistent in their approach, with Rickie Lambert leading the attack with Pablo Osvaldo and Adam Lallana in support in each of the last two matches, while Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin anchor the midfield from deeper-lying roles. Jay Rodriguez featured in the goalless draw against West Ham as the third midfielder, with Shaw, Jose Fonte, Dejan Lovren, and Nathaniel Clyne in defense ahead of Artur Boruc in goal.
Toure Skrtel Sakho Enrique
Henderson Alberto Moses
We're not clear on a few names--Joe Allen was announced fit ahead of the Swansea trip but then left out of the squad, and Daniel Agger is somewhere near fit after his weight-room accident. We do know that Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho are out for sure along with Philippe Coutinho and Sebastian Coates, and Luis Suarez will serve the last of his ten-match ban.
It will be really interesting to see how Brendan Rodgers does the picking throughout the squad, especially at the back. The fitness of Agger will have a heavy influence; if the Dane is ready, he'll come back in and push either Martin Skrtel or Mamadou Sakho out, with Kolo Toure possibly in the mix as well. I don't know that Agger needs to be tested, though, so I'll guess that we get Skrtel and Sakho in the middle again. And while he might not be as mobile as Andre Wisdom, I wouldn't mind having Toure at fullback, especially if he's got Jordan Henderson playing in front of him to do most of the running. Wisdom's transition back to deputy on the right hasn't been successful to this point, and Toure's stability could take priority even if Wisdom is the more likely to start.
There's not too much that will change in the midfield unless Rodgers makes a surprising decision; Steven Gerrard and Lucas will anchor from deep, with Jordan Henderson shifted wide with license to float centrally. A change in setup is possible given the absence of Coutinho, but a major alteration in shape or personnel--with Allen and Luis Alberto as possible additions--doesn't seem to be on the cards.
Rodgers' biggest challenge is filling the creative void left by Coutinho's injury; a handful of options are possible, with Alberto, Raheem Sterling, and Iago Aspas all in the mix to take the remaining spot in attack. After a solid debut in Wales it appears that Victor Moses is again set to start on the left (though he too could slide centrally if need), and Daniel Sturridge will lead from the front in search of his fifth goal in as many Premier League matches. On intrigue alone I'll pick Alberto, even if Aspas appears the most probable.
Kickoff is set for 3:00PM BST/10:00AM EST, and it'll be aired live on NBCSN/ NBC Sports Live Extra in the US. This will be the first match of the season that isn't shown in England, though, so viewers there will have to rely on radio and/or any available online options. We'll have the matchday thread up early in the day, with team sheets posted just after they're released around an hour or so before the start time.
Hope you'll be around to join us.