LIVERPOOL face Southampton in a bid to keep their strong start to the Premier League season alive.
After a successful start to their UEFA Champions League campaign on Tuesday night, Liverpool are back in Premier League action at Anfield, as they welcome Southampton on Saturday afternoon. Jurgen Klopp’s men are on a high, having won their first five Premier League games, but know they can’t afford to slip up on this potential banana-skin, with massive games against Chelsea and Manchester City following this one.
Virgil van Dijk
Klopp has a clean bill of health and is expected to field his strongest side to take the field against a Saints side, who will be bereft of Danny Ings, who cannot play as part of his loan agreement.
Roberto Firmino is expected to go straight back into the starting XI in place of Daniel Sturridge, while Naby Keita could also make a comeback into the Reds’ starting XI.
Here are some potentially key individual duels that could decide the fate of the game.
MOHAMED SALAH v RYAN BERTRAND
A lot was said in midweek about Salah’s performance and his perceived annoyance after Firmino’s late winner, but any questions about his unhappiness were put to rest soon after. Salah didn’t have a great game though, as the ball just didn’t stick for him, and he gave it away cheaply for PSG to score their second goal.
There is an opportunity to shut all the critics down on Saturday, though. But facing him will be one of the most consistent left-backs in the league over the last few seasons.
Salah’s performance levels are still not at a concerning level, it is just a few things like cleaner touches and better decision-making. His movement is still top-class, and he is still getting into the right positions – those of the kind which terrorised opposition defences last season.
He is just lacking a little bit of sharpness, and that should come with more game-time. It is a similar spell to the beginning of last season, when not just Salah, but the whole Liverpool team were creating loads of chances but not putting them away.
All it will take is one game where it all explodes, like it did against Maribor last season, for Salah to get back to the goalscoring form that we know. It is difficult to keep getting into threatening positions but not score at all, and the tap for Salah is just waiting to be burst open.
SADIO MANE v CEDRIC SOARES
Mane has had a fantastic goal-scoring start to the season and has benefited hugely from this changed role, where he is playing a lot more in central positions. He is also enjoying the added attention given to Salah and Firmino, which opens up a little more space for him to do his thing.
Against PSG, he started and ended the game like a house on fire, but for large periods in the middle, he was only a bystander who couldn’t really impact proceedings. Andy Robertson has been on fire, and that has helped Mane move infield without the fear of seeing the left flank unmanned.
Mane has also been hugely helped by Robertson’s ability to find him in space, in most situations. The Scot’s aerial balls have been pinged into Mane’s feet, which have allowed the Senegalese that extra bit of time on the ball to suss up the situation and then make his decisions.
Against Spurs last weekend, Mane’s decision-making was poor, but like Salah, that is nothing that points to any long-term concerns.
VIRGIL VAN DIJK v SHANE LONG
In the absence of Ings, who has done a lot of the Saints’ goalscoring this season, the onus to trouble the Liverpool rearguard is likely to fall on Long. That isn’t exactly a happy place for Mark Hughes to be in, given the scarcity of Long’s goals in the last few seasons.
Van Dijk was immense in midweek against PSG, matching Edinson Cavani in the air, and also matching the speed of Kylian Mbappe on the floor.
With Joe Gomez, he has formed a strong partnership at the heart of the Liverpool defence, and that is expected to continue in this game as well.
Long needs support from the likes of Mohamed Elyounoussi and Nathan Redmond, whenever Southampton get forward. The Irishman chases down every ball and there’s no such thing as a lost cause for him, but he will need support when Southampton do foray forward.
It is expected to be a lonely afternoon up top for Long, but if he can get into positions to deliver the sucker punch, Liverpool have the personnel to deal with it, not least the big Dutchman.