Southampton and Liverpool will both be looking to secure a first-leg advantage in their midweek meeting in the semi-finals of the EFL Cup (7.45pm Wednesday, Sky Sports 1).
Southampton advanced to this stage of the competition by getting the better of Crystal Palace (2-0), Sunderland (1-0) and Arsenal (2-0), with the latter victory particularly impressive given that it came at the Emirates Stadium.
Saints’ form has taken a hit in the last few weeks, though, with their last four matches in all competitions – against Tottenham Hotspur, West Bromwich Albion, Everton and Norwich City – yielding zero wins and three losses. It is important that Claude Puel’s charges get back on track in the Premier League as they continue their fight for a Europa League spot, but their attention will now turn back towards the EFL Cup as they attempt to reach the final of the tournament for the first time since Lawrie McMenemy’s side were defeated 3-2 by Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest outfit in the 1978/79 campaign.
Liverpool beat Burton Albion (5-0), Derby County (3-0), Tottenham Hotspur (2-1) and Leeds United (2-0) to reach the last four of English football’s secondary cup competition. More generally, Jurgen Klopp’s men have not been beaten in their last seven encounters, stretching back to their 4-3 defeat by Bournemouth at the start of December.
The Premier League will clearly be the former Mainz and Borussia Dortmund head coach’s priority this season, but Klopp will also be desperate to win his first piece of silverware as manager of Liverpool, particularly as last term’s EFL Cup and Europa League finals ended in such disappointing circumstances. The Merseysiders start as bookies’ favourites to advance to the Wembley showpiece ahead of their upcoming opponents (generally 4/11 shots to reach the EFL Cup final), but it is vital that they do not let complacency creep into their game at either Anfield or St Marys.
Southampton will be missing Charlie Austin (shoulder), Sofiane Boufal (unspecified injury), Alex McCarthy (hamstring), Matt Targett (hamstring) and Joel Pied (knee) for Wednesday’s clash in front of their own supporters. Puel looks set to stick with the 4-3-3 formation he has favoured in recent weeks, with Nathan Redmond and Dusan Tadic set to flank either Shane Long or Jay Rodriguez as the team’s centre-forward. Jose Fonte handed in a transfer request last week and was left out of the team in Saturday’s draw with Norwich, with the Portugal international also likely to sit this one out.
Liverpool will probably be without Philippe Coutinho (ankle), Sadio Mane (Africa Cup of Nations), James Milner (calf), Jordan Henderson (heel), Joel Matip (ankle) and Marco Grujic (tendon), while Danny Ings is definitely unavailable for selection as he continues to recover from a serious knee injury.
Youngsters Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Sheyi Ojo, Ben Woodburn and Oviemuno Ejaria were all handed opportunities from the start in Saturday’s goalless draw with Plymouth Argyle but will all drop out this time around, with Adam Lallana (pictured), Roberto Firmino, Dejan Lovren, Simon Mignolet, Gini Wijnaldum, Nathaniel Clyne and Ragnar Klavan among those likely to return to Klopp’s line-up for the Reds’ trip to the south coast.
It is difficult for this preview to look past a Liverpool victory on Wednesday night, which would put the Reds in a terrific position in their bid to reach the final of the EFL Cup for the second year in a row.
Klopp seems to take this competition seriously and, given that his side have no European commitments this term, will probably field a strong starting XI at St Marys. Putting your money behind Liverpool looks like the way to go here, while Lallana – who has found the back of the net seven times this season heading into Wednesday’s clash with his former club – could be an astute choice in the anytime goalscorer market.
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