You wait all season for a cup game and then two come along in the same week. Having stumbled and bumbled to a frustrating goalless draw against League Two’s Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup third round on Sunday, the Reds now travel to the South coast to take on Southampton in the League Cup semi-final first leg. Jürgen Klopp will be far from delighted that a replay against the Pilgrims will need to be added to an already packed January, but the fact that we’re still in both cup competitions will no doubt please him.
We’ve played Saints in the League Cup under Klopp before, of course. Last year an Origi hat-trick saw us reach the semi-finals after we battered them 6-1 at St. Mary’s. Fast forward twelve months and Ronald Koeman is winding up Evertonians over at Goodison by having a red Christmas tree, telling Romelu Lukaku to move to a ‘big club’ and generally just not caring what they think. New management for Southampton this time around, then, but what sort of game can we expect and what bets should you be placing?
The manager has come under some bizarre criticism from some quarters for making ten changes for the match against Plymouth at the weekend. Never mind that Karius, Lucas, Can, Moreno and Origi have all played numerous times for the first team. Forget that Gomez is seen as an important player for the future and Ben Woodburn scored against Leeds in the last round of the League Cup. Pretend for a second that the press don’t also often praise the manager for giving youngsters a chance. The media have found a jumpable bandwagon and are well and truly on it.
What, then, will the manager do for this tie? He’s often declared that he believes in the importance of his players having a rhythm for games. It’s a big part of the reason that he doesn’t rest lads when you really think he will. It’s difficult to tell of course, but if we didn’t have this Saints game then I think he’d have gone much stronger in the Plymouth match in order to ensure players were in the groove for the trip to Manchester United. I would expect Klopp to choose a strong side for this game, perhaps giving one or two youngsters a chance just to have a look at them.
The manager confirmed that Philippe Coutinho has been back in training for a couple of days and would make the squad for the trip to St. Mary’s. It wouldn’t be out of character for the German to select the Brazilian playmaker for this one to ensure he’s got an hour or so in his legs before we head to Old Trafford. What about Sturridge, will he start? We scored six past Southampton last time the manager played him and Origi up top together. My suspected team is: Karius – Clyne – Klavan – Lovren – Milner – Henderson – Wijnaldum – Lallana – Firmino – Coutinho – Sturridge.
The new Saints manager Claude Puel has decided to take a hardline approach to José Fonte until the club captain’s future has been resolved. He handed in a transfer request last week, though no one seems to be quite sure of which club he is hoping to head to. Regardless, he won’t be available for our trip to face Southampton and that is good news in my opinion. Maya Yoshida came in for him when they played Norwich in the FA Cup at the weekend and my guess is that that is what will happen again for this one.
Charlie Austin continues to be missing for Saints as he’s got a shoulder injury. That leaves Puel with a bit of a shortage in the final third as the club’s new signing Sofiane Boufal is also missing. The forward was always meant to miss this game as he should have been at the African Cup of Nations with Morocco, but he’s suffered a knee injury and hasn’t travelled. Matt Targett and Jeremy Pied will also both miss the match and Cedric Soares is a doubt after he suffered a head injury against Everton. They’ll still be fielding a decent team, though, so this one is far from a gimme.
Liverpool’s form has been mixed recently, if we’re honest. How much of a fuss should be made about it depends on who you ask. The reactionary members of the fanbase will tell you that the draw at The Stadium of Light proved we’ll never win the league and that the kids’ inability to break down the eleven man defence of a League Two side means the squad depth isn’t good enough. More sensible people will say that we played Sunderland less than 48 hours after a gruelling game against Man City and that the kids did everything except score against Plymouth. Either way, we’re not beating everyone in front of us.
Form isn’t the be all and end all of things when it comes to cup competitions, but Saints are rocking a little bit at the moment. Their last home win was against Middlesbrough and that was on the 11th of December. That and an away win over Bournemouth are the only victories they’ve been able to muster since they knocked Arsenal out of this competition in the quarter-finals. They got thumped 4-1 by Spurs at home and lost 2-1 to West Brom at St. Mary’s straight after. They also lost 3-0 to Everton and drew 2-2 with Norwich in the FA Cup at the weekend.
It’s always tricky to know how first legs of cup ties will pan out. On the one hand Klopp may be thinking that a big result will be the perfect prep for Old Trafford and also make the second leg a dead rubber, on the other hand he won’t be wanting to be knocked out before we even head to Anfield. Here’s why I think there’s value in the betting market:
Both Teams To Score
When Liverpool last travelled to St. Mary’s I suggested you lump on Both Teams To Score. The match promptly finished 0-0 and everyone was furious that the Reds couldn’t get anything on the scoresheet despite dominating the game. Cup football is a little bit different, though, and that is especially true of two-legged ties. Liverpool will be keen to get an away goal to take back to Anfield and Southampton will be trying to take advantage of the first leg being at home.
That’s why I think Both Teams To Score at 5/6 is a strong option, even if there isn’t a huge amount of value in it. If you want something that is more likely to earn you some reasonably good profit then you might want to have a look at predicting the match result as well as both teams scoring. It is the same odds for both Liverpool to Win and BTTS as it is for a Draw and BTTS, 10/3. If you think Klopp wants to win the tie now then go with the former, if you think it will be finely balanced then opt for the latter.
Sturridge To Score
Daniel Sturridge scored in his first league start since returning from injury when we played Sunderland on the second of January. He came on against Plymouth to get some minutes in his legs and although he didn’t net against the Pilgrims he still looked a class above everyone else on the football pitch. The forward is 7/4 to Score Anytime and that is a bet I will be placing.
As always you might like to find a bet with a little bit more to it. If that’s the case then it could be worth having a look at Sturridge opening the scoring. Dan the Man is 5/1 to be First Goalscorer. If you believe that Klopp might go with a more youthful lineup for the beginning of the match and freshen things up as it goes on then you’ll be keen to know that Sturridge is 9/2 To Score Last.
Other Goal Scorers
I’m convinced that Philippe Coutinho will get some minutes in this match. I think that Klopp wants to use him against Manchester United and in order to do that the Brazilian will have to have played more than just a training game. Whether he uses him for sixty or brings him on for the last thirty is the key question. Coutinho is 7/1 to Score Last and that looks like the more sensible of the two options to me.
Saints pose a risk themselves and Liverpool continue to look vulnerable from set-pieces. Both of their central defenders scored against Norwich and Virgil van Dijk is 8/1 to Score Anytime, which might be worth a flutter. Meanwhile, an Anytime Goal from his defensive buddy Maya Yoshida is 9/1.
It’s really difficult to know for sure how either team is going to setup, so for that reason I’m going to recommend the coward’s bet of Both Teams To Score @ 5/6. I also think you can’t go too far wrong putting your faith in Liverpool’s centre forward, so expect to see the wriggly arm dance and bet on Sturridge to Score Anytime at 7/4.