Last night, Manchester United beat Hull City 2-0 in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final. Given Hull’s struggles of late, it’s difficult to imagine the second leg changing things and the Red Devils not securing a place in the final. Tonight, Liverpool and Southampton will seek their own opening round advantage.
Southampton, though, know they head into the game as underdogs. They fought Liverpool to a nil-nil draw in November at St. Mary’s, but with the second leg of the cup semi-final set for Anfield, manager Claude Puel knows his side will need to manage more than a hard-fought draw tonight if they’re to have a chance.
“For the moment it is difficult to speak about the final,” was Puel’s reply when asked if, having reached the semis, his side are now beginning to dream of silverware. “This is an exciting challenge. We know we are not the favourites, particularly with the second leg being away from home, but we have nothing to lose.
“We have to play at a good level, to take pleasure, and get a result. Last time we played a strong game against them and had a good defensive organisation. It is important for this game to have a little more of the ball and try to control the game, but that is difficult against this team because of their ability to recover the ball.”
After a strong start to the season, Southampton’s form has dipped heading into the winter. The Saints have won just one of their past five league games, their top defender has handed in a transfer request, and they’ve dropped into tenth in the table with a negative goal differential. They are a side, at the very least, struggling.
They aren’t in crisis yet, but a heavy defeat at home to Liverpool tonight could get them there. Or it could be the perfect chance to get their season back on track. That will be the goal for Puel’s side, a side the manager says have nothing left to lose as they prepare for what could end up the decisive game of their season.