Despite the win on Thursday night--making it three straight in the past two weeks--there's not a particularly positive feeling around Liverpool right now, largely due to the fallout from Mario Balotelli's performance. The Italian striker was superb after coming off the bench and took the match-winning penalty with typical aplomb, but the brief dispute between he and Jordan Henderson left a sour taste for some, and most were unnerved by the criticism of Steven Gerrard in the commentary booth.
That negative sentiment was furthered when Brendan Rodgers provided a withering evaluation of Balotelli's performance, deciding to pick at the very minor negatives that emerged during the course of the 24-year-old's display rather than what seemed like very clear positives. This sequence of events has largely erased the reality that Liverpool actually won the match, and in doing so continued an impressive run of form that gives them a leg up in advancing to the round of 16.
It also should have provided momentum ahead of what's their most challenging fixture domestically in weeks, as tomorrow they face a Southampton side that have been excellent this season. Expected to struggle after losing a number of important players over the summer, Ronald Koeman has overseen a wonderful campaign to this point, with the south coast side currently in fourth on 46 points. Recent form has dipped slightly, with only one win, a late 1-0 victory over QPR, from their last four, but they're plenty capable of bouncing back to earn a win tomorrow.
Koeman will have to deal with at least a couple of absences through injury, with doubts about Shane Long and Morgan Schneiderlin--though both are expected to be available--and Jay Rodriguez and Toby Alderweireld among those ruled out for sure. In the 0-0 draw against West Ham, the Dutchman opted for Fraser Forster in goal, Nathaniel Clyne, Maya Yoshida, Jose Fonte, and Florin Gardos across the back, Steven Davis, Victor Wanyama, and Harrison Reed in the midfield, with Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle, and Eljero Elia in attack. Dusan Tadic came off the bench along with James Ward-Prowse, and if Schneiderlin is fit, he'll surely come into the eleven with Long as an option later in the match.
Can Skrtel Sakho
Ibe Henderson Allen Moreno
No fresh injury worries for Liverpool, but they are back to a handful of players ruled out. Steven Gerrard continues his rehab work along with Jose Enrique, Lucas, Jon Flanagan, and Brad Jones, while Raheem Sterling should be back and fit for a start after his substitute appearance against Besiktas. And while it doesn't count as an injury per se, fatigue could play a significant part for a handful of Liverpool's regulars, most notably Philippe Coutinho.
Emre Can also looked a little off the pace on Thursday night, but he's expected to start again tomorrow along with what's become Liverpool's regular defensive contingent. They kept another clean sheet against Besiktas and found themselves troubled only once or twice, and Can, Martin Skrtel, and Mamadou Sakho will continue as the preferred setup in front of Simon Mignolet indefinitely. No sentimental return is expected for Dejan Lovren, who made an appearance midweek to mixed effect.
The midfield should also remain the same, though there is a chance that Jordon Ibe slides to the bench or a spot further forward. He seems preferred to Lazar Markovic at this point, however, and his performances warrant another start as long as fatigue isn't an issue. Brendan Rodgers could go with Markovic for that reason alone; Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen look set to partner again centrally, with Alberto Moreno, who's rounding into excellent form at left wingback.
Who starts in the front three is where things get interesting, with plenty of options available in terms of personnel and setup. As mentioned, Ibe and Markovic could feature, but it looks like Sterling will get the nod after looking lively on Thursday, and while tired legs are going to be a concern, Daniel Sturridge will probably start as well. That leaves a third attacking spot and questions as to whether Mario Balotelli is included from the opening whistle, which doesn't look particularly likely after Rodgers' comments yesterday. One of Coutinho or Lallana should feature, and the latter is preferred to give the former a much-needed rest.
Kickoff is set for 4:15PM GMT/11:15AM EST on Sunday, with Sky Sports 1 providing coverage in the UK and NBCSN airing the match in the US. Our coverage will continue with any breaking team news, team sheets when they’re released, and live coverage tomorrow including full viewing options and post-match reactions. If you haven’t already, sign up for an SB Nation account and join us for it.
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