Liverpool vs. Southampton: Key Selection Decisions for Brendan Rodgers

Matt Ladson@mattladsonFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2014

Southampton's Dejan Lovren, bottom right, scores against Liverpool during their English Premier League soccer match at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, England, Saturday Sept. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Jon Super/Associated Press

Liverpool host Southampton in their opening game of the Premier League season on Sunday, looking to avenge the Saints' victory at Anfield last season—one of only two sides to leave the Reds' home with three points in 2014/15.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 10:  Brendan Rodgers manager of Liverpool during the Pre Season Friendly match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on August 10, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
Clint Hughes/Getty Images

Of course, much has been made of Liverpool's purchase of three players from the Saints this summer but only one will actually feature at Anfield on Sunday in Brendan Rodgers' starting XI; centre-back Dejan Lovren.

Of the other two, Rickie Lambert is likely to start from the bench, while Adam Lallana is missing through an injury he suffered just days into his Liverpool career.

Rodgers is without some other players who have picked up injuries during pre-season; centre-back Daniel Agger, new attacker Lazar Markovic, forward Fabio Borini and full-back Jon Flanagan.

New boys Lallana and Markovic being unavailable means that Rodgers' attack pretty much picks itself, especially given the beautiful linkup play that Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling demonstrated in the 4-0 friendly win over Borussia Dortmund last Sunday.

It's other areas of the team where Rodgers has some key selection decisions to make.


Liverpool's full-backs, indeed their whole defence, were undoubtedly their weakest area last season and where the Reds' most needed to strengthen this summer.

It's taken some time, but in the last few weeks Rodgers has finally added right-back Javier Manquillo on loan from Atletico Madrid—he enjoyed an impressive debut against Dortmund—and is set to complete the signing of long-term target Alberto Moreno from Sevilla, who was pictured training with his new team-mates on Friday but is yet to officially complete his move, as per The Liverpool Echo.

That means that Moreno won't be available to make his bow for the club on Sunday, having not been registered in time.

Alberto Moreno won't be available for #LFC's PL opener v Southampton at Anfield on Sunday. Paperwork not registered in time.

— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) August 15, 2014

Add in Flanagan's injury and Rodgers has only Glen Johnson, Manquillo and Jose Enrique available.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 10:  Glen Johnson of Liverpool during the Pre Season Friendly match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on August 10, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
Clint Hughes/Getty Images

Enrique missed eight months through injury and doubts remain over his full fitness, so a process of elimination means it is more than likely that Johnson will continue at left-back—arguably where he has performed better latterly—and thus Manquillo at right-back.


It's at the heart of defence where the big question is asked: Who will partner Liverpool's new leader at the back, Dejan Lovren? Having compared the Croat to Jamie Carragher in the week, as per The Independent, it's fair to assume Rodgers will have Lovren as his first choice centre-back.

The 25-year-old, who scored the only goal in the corresponding fixture last season, was a vocal presence at Anfield on his debut last week against Dortmund, organising and commanding the defence—something that was clearly lacking last campaign.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 04: Wayne Rooney #10 of Manchester United is challenged by Martin Skrtel #37 of Liverpool  in the Guinness International Champions Cup 2014 Final at Sun Life Stadium on August 4, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Alongside Lovren last week was Martin Skrtel, who enjoyed a resurgence in form last season—having looked to be heading for the exit door in last summer's transfer window. Skrtel is the only recognised right-sided centre-back and thus his position looks assured, for now at least.

The long-term plan may be to alter Lovren to the right of defence to partner last summer's marquee £18 million signing Mamadou Sakho—forming a centre-back pairing worth £38 million. That, though, won't be tested on Sunday against Ronald Koeman's side.

Thus, Skrtel and Lovren are expected to continue, with Sakho having to wait for his chance to claim his place.

Central Midfield

Moving slightly ahead and it's in midfield where two of the three positions are assured. Captain Steven Gerrard will anchor the midfield in his deep-lying playmaker role, while Jordan Henderson became a key man last year.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 10:  Emre Can of Liverpool during the Pre Season Friendly match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund at Anfield on August 10, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
Clint Hughes/Getty Images

Rodgers has options over who partners the duo in the engine room of the side; Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva, new signing Emre Can or indeed Coutinho are all options.

Given the lack of forward options, though, Coutinho will start in the front three or at the tip of the midfield diamond in the No. 10 role that he has impressed in during pre-season.

Lucas has struggled when asked to play in a more advanced role ahead of his skipper, while Allen has been pushed behind Can during the pre-season fixtures.

The 20-year-old German arrived from Bayer Leverkusen as a versatile player and has impressed in his appearances during pre-season.

Love this clip, Emre Can knocking Balotelli off the ball with ease. via @GifsLiverpool #LFC #emrecanisboss

— Steve Webster (@stevewebster76) August 11, 2014

Can looks physically capable of performing in the Premier League, and his energy alongside Henderson should really put Rodgers' pressing game to good effect.

All that means is Rodgers will likely continue with the same starting XI as the Dortmund friendly, but the questions will become much tougher when Lallana, Markovic and Flanagan return to fitness. The arrival of a forward to compete with Sturridge up front will also give the manager a puzzler or two, in a good, competitive way.


Indeed, arguably the toughest decision facing Rodgers will be who misses out on the matchday squad. Last week's Dortmund friendly allowed for 11 subs to be named, a luxury the boss won't have in the Premier League.

Sakho, Lambert, Allen, Enrique and sub keeper Brad Jones will almost certainly be five of the seven allowed. Youngsters Suso and Jordon Ibe will battle it out for one spot, while Lucas may get a clear sign of where his future lies if he isn't included.

What's clear is that even with the aforementioned injuries in the squad, the strength in depth is much improved from 12 months ago. 

Expected LFC XI: Mignolet, Manquillo, Skrtel, Lovren, Johnson, Gerrard, Can, Henderson, Coutinho, Sterling, Sturridge.


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