Liverpool vs. Southampton: Projected Lineups and Injury Updates
After a 2-1 defeat to Tottenham, Brendan Rodgers and his Liverpool squad are in desperate need of three points to stay within shouting distance of the top half of the Premier League. The loss ended Liverpool's run of eight games unbeaten, although five of those matches were draws.
Rodgers would like to believe a home fixture against 18th-place Southampton would be a great opportunity to pick up maximum points. However, Southampton come into the match thinking they can at least grab a point as they are unbeaten in their last four.
Saints have picked up eight points in that span, and have only conceded three goals during the streak. Southampton likely feel slightly disappointed in only getting a point at home against Norwich City on Wednesday, and have dipped back into the relegation zone after briefly escaping following the win against Newcastle.
Here is a breakdown of Saturday's projected starting lineup, and updates on players coming back from injuries.
There appears to be a bit of good news for Liverpool on the injury front.
Lucas Leiva played in a U21 match last week for 62 minutes, according to the Daily Mail. There is a chance Lucas could be available for selection for the Southampton match, but Rodgers may give him another week and save him for the West Ham match on December 9.
Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini are both still out with long-term injuries. Borini is expected to be out until at least January, and Kelly is not due back until March with a knee injury.
For Southampton, Luke Shaw left the match against Norwich with a cramping issue. The issue has been recurring, but has not kept Shaw out of the lineup. The 17-year-old should be available on Saturday.
Danny Fox should be available for Southampton as well, after a knee injury has kept him out of action. Fox was expected to return Wednesday against Norwich, but wasn't quite ready yet.
Frazer Richardson is closing in on a return to full fitness according to the Southampton website. Richardson hopes to be fit by the Christmas portion of the schedule. Richard Chaplow is still out for an unknown period of time.
Liverpool Goalkeeper: Pepe Reina
Pepe Reina isn't having the greatest season in between the sticks for Liverpool. Reina is allowing 1.4 goals per match and has a shockingly poor 60 percent save rate, only making 21 saves and conceding 14 goals according to ESPN.com stats.
Debatably, Reina's backup, Brad Jones, is having a better season. Jones has only allowed four goals in four appearances, and his save percentage of 69.2 percent is better (nine saves out of 13 chances) than Reina's, although not exactly great either.
But Reina has always been the starter, and Jones has pretty much been a career backup. So pedigree is definitely winning over form.
Southampton Goalkeeper: Paulo Gazzaniga
On the positive side, Paulo Gazzaniga has been in goal for every game Southampton has won or drawn in the Premier League.
On the negative side, Gazzaniga has probably turned two wins into draws with bad mistakes. His bad clearance against Swansea that gifted possession to Nathan Dyer, which resulted in a goal. Then his failure to stop Robert Snodgrass' easy free kick means that a possible four-game winning streak is instead just a four-game unbeaten streak.
Gazzaniga's stats aren't great, a 1.375 goals against average and a 66.7 percent save rate (22 saves on 33 chances). But Nigel Adkins continues to believe in the young 20-year-old Argentinian, and the other options of Kelvin Davis and Artur Boruc have failed to impress.
Look for Adkins to stick with Gazzaniga and grit his teeth through Gazzaniga's mistakes, which will hopefully become fewer and fewer with more experience.
Liverpool Back Four: Agger, Skrtel, Johnson, Wisdom
Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger should not be surprises starting in the middle of the Liverpool back line. Both have started 13 of the 14 Premier League matches the Reds have played so far this season.
Glen Johnson has also been a fairly regular pick for Rodgers, appearing in 12 of Liverpool's 14 Premier League matches. Johnson has spent the majority of his time on the left side of the back line, although he has played on the right as well.
With Andre Wisdom healthy, look for Johnson to move back to the left and Wisdom taking the starting right back position. Against Tottenham, Rodgers employed Stewart Downing as a left back, but Downing was less than convincing and was eventually subbed out.
Jamie Carragher will likely be on the bench again, possibly as the only true defensive sub.
Southampton Back Four: Fonte, Yoshida, Clyne, Shaw
During the course of Southampton's four-game unbeaten streak, Nigel Adkins has not made one change to his starting 11. Unless Luke Shaw's cramping issue holds him back, expect the same back four again.
Since Maya Yoshida and Jose Fonte have become the first-choice center back pairing in late October, the Southampton defense has greatly improved. In the last six matches, Southampton has not conceded more than two goals in any match, and just seven goals total over that stretch. In comparison, Saints conceded 24 in their first eight Premier League matches.
Nathaniel Clyne has been a constant on the right side of the Southampton back four. Clyne has appeared in 13 of Southampton's 14 games and has fit in quite well since his move from Crystal Palace.
The left back spot has been a bit of a revolving door. Danny Fox, Clyne, Yoshida, and Shaw have all started at the position. With Saints unbeaten in the last four with Shaw starting all those matches, look for Shaw to get the call.
Fox, if he is indeed fit, and Jos Hooiveld will likely be the defenders on the bench. If Fox cannot go, Ben Reeves will likely make the bench.
Liverpool Midfield: Allen, Gerrard, Enrique
There's a lot of different directions that Brendan Rodgers can go with his midfield lineup. A lot of his decision will depend on the formation Rodgers wants to use.
No matter the formation, Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard are almost guaranteed spots in the lineup. Both players have started all 14 matches in the Premier League
The issue comes if Rodgers wants to play a 4-3-3 against Southampton to put maximum pressure on the Saints at Anfield. It does force Gerrard to play a bit wider than usual.
The third midfield spot should go to Jose Enrique, who played more as a forward against Tottenham. Moving Enrique to left midfield would drop Jordan Henderson to the bench.
For maximum flexibility, Rodgers will probably include Nuri Sahin, Henderson and Stewart Downing on the bench. If Luca Leiva is indeed healthy, that gives Rodgers yet another option.
Southampton Midfield: Cork, Schneiderlin, Lallana, Puncheon, Ramirez
Expect little change in the Southampton midfield, as Nigel Adkins will hope his five-man midfield continues their excellent recent play.
The defensive midfield has been solidified by the return of Jack Cork to the lineup. Cork missed over two months after picking up an injury in a Capital One Cup match and was just coming back from a ankle injury suffered in preseason training.
Cork. who played in all 46 league matches last season when Southampton was in the Championship, has yet to lose in his four appearances. Cork will pair up with Morgan Schneiderlin, who has started 13 of 14 Premier League games for the Saints.
In the front of midfield, expect Adam Lallana and Jason Puncheon to take their places on the wings. Lallana has played in all 14 matches and is one of the Premier League's leading assist men with four so far this season. Puncheon has been a revelation of late, averaging 2.7 shots per game and terrorizing defenders with his pace.
Finishing up the midfield in an attacking center midfield/withdrawn striker role will be Gaston Ramirez. Since returning from a dead leg, Ramirez has helped improve Southampton's fortunes with his play, including a Man of the Match performance against Newcastle with a goal and an assist.
Steven Davis and either James Ward-Prowse or Guly do Prado will serve as midfield backups at Anfield.
Liverpool Forwards: Sterling, Suarez, Suso
Look for Brendan Rodgers to go for it against Southampton with three true strikers.
Luis Suarez has had to carry the load so far for the Reds. Suarez has scored 10 of Liverpool's 18 goals, and no other Liverpool player has more than one. Suarez hasn't missed a game for Liverpool, thankfully for the Reds.
To put pressure on Southampton's young outside backs, look for Rodgers to put a couple of skilled dribblers on the outside. Suso and Raheem Sterling should get the nod. While Sterling only has one goal in 13 appearances and Suso no goals in eight matches, their pace and dribbling skills will cause trouble for Nathaniel Clyne and Luke Shaw, and open up lanes for Suarez to work in.
Oussama Assaidi and Jonjo Shelvey should make the bench for further attacking options.
Southampton Forward: Rickie Lambert
If Nigel Adkins doesn't play Rickie Lambert against Lambert's hometown club Liverpool, Lambert may rip Adkins' arm out of its socket and bash him over the head with it.
Lambert has busted out of his mini-slump, picking up two goals and one assist in his last four games. The 30-year-old striker has tried to maintain his focus on previous matches, but admitted he was looking forward to playing at Anfield.
"I've tried my best not to put any attention on it because I've been focusing on these games," Lambert said in a post-match interview Wednesday with the Saints website. "But it has been at the back of my head."
Lambert continued, "it has come round now so I'm really looking forward to it."
Jay Rodriguez will likely make the bench again along with Emmanuel Mayuka, who can double as a substitute on the outside of midfield.
The points are truly up for grabs in this fixture. While Southampton come into the match with a bit better run of form, it seems to be an ask for Saints to pull a result out.
Liverpool have more depth and are used to playing under short turnarounds by participating in the Europa League. Southampton will likely use the same starting 11 that will be playing their third match in seven days and will have the burden of travelling.
I think Liverpool will probably wear down Southampton and snatch a winner in the last 20 minutes.
Prediction: Liverpool 2, Southampton 1.