Liverpool vs. Southampton
Venue: Anfield Stadium
Kick off: 4PM
Liverpool’s final match before the mid-season break sees them welcome an in-form Southampton side to Anfield this afternoon.
Jurgen Klopp’s champions-elect continued their procession towards the title with a 2-0 win over West Ham United in their game in hand on Wednesday night, but face a Southampton side flying up the Premier League table.
Nineteen is the magic number for Liverpool right now; that is how many points clear they are after 24 games of the season, the number of different Premier League teams they have beaten this term – an all-time club record in the top flight – and also the number of English league titles they look certain to have at the end of the campaign.
Klopp is refusing to subscribe to that latter statement just yet – at least in public – but it is nigh-on impossible to see Liverpool dropping the required number of points to blow the title at this stage.
The Reds, who have only lost one of their last 63 Premier League games in a run which stretches back to May 2018, could afford to lose six of their final 14 matches this term and still win the title regardless of what closest challengers Manchester City do.
The title is now a question of when Liverpool will win it rather than if, and those outside the club are instead focusing on whether Klopp’s class of 2019-20 can go through the entire campaign unbeaten – a feat only achieved twice in English top-flight history before.
A frankly ridiculous run of 97 points from the last 99 on offer in the Premier League suggests that they are more than capable of doing so, while Man City’s record tally of 100 points is also under serious threat with Liverpool currently on course for a 110-point haul – unprecedented in Europe’s top divisions.
Unsurprisingly, no team has ever reached the 70-point mark quicker than Liverpool have this season, with Wednesday’s 2-0 triumph over West Ham United being their 15th Premier League victory in a row.
Only two teams in English top-flight history have managed longer winning streaks – Man City’s 18-game run a couple of seasons ago and Liverpool’s streak which fell one short of that record when they dropped their only points of the campaign at Manchester United in October.
The Reds’ unbeaten run in the Premier League now stretches back to 41 games, and should they avoid defeat to Southampton on Saturday then they would equal Nottingham Forest’s mark from 1978, with only Arsenal’s Invincibles then left ahead of them in the annals of English top-flight football.
A plethora of other stats also point towards this Liverpool team being one of the best of all time, and it is hard to see them slipping up any time soon with Southampton the only top-half team they have left to face until April.
Indeed, after today’s match their next four games all come against the current bottom four, before making the short trip to Goodison Park for a Merseyside derby in which they could officially clinch the title.
Liverpool’s incredible form demands comparisons with great teams of years gone by, but it is also important to highlight the more immediate past with Liverpool’s latest clean sheet meaning that they have now conceded just one goal in their last nine league games.
Klopp’s side have not conceded at Anfield in any competition since December 4, keeping five clean sheets in row having begun the campaign without one in their first 12, and their home form is arguably even more daunting than their overall record.
That number 19 crops up again in terms of consecutive Premier League wins at Anfield, and victory over Southampton would see them equal the record set by Man City between March 2011 and March 2012.
The overall top-flight record is held by Liverpool – 21 in 1972 – and they could equal that against West Ham next month should they beat the Saints.
It is now 52 outings since Liverpool last lost a league game in front of their own fans, while they have scored in each of their last 27 of those, which is their longest such run since a 38-game streak from May 1967 to February 1969.
Southampton will not be expecting too much from their trip up north, then, particularly given that they have only won four of their 40 Premier League away games on Merseyside against both Liverpool and Everton.
However, on current form the Saints are arguably the team with the best hope of halting the Liverpool juggernaut; only their hosts on Saturday have picked up more points over the last six games, with Southampton’s victory over Crystal Palace in their last league outing lifting them into the top half of the table for the first time this season.
It has been a remarkable transition for a team that looked certain to be heavily embroiled in a relegation scrap just a few months ago and suffered the ignominy of a 9-0 home defeat at the hands of Leicester City in October.
After winning just two and losing eight of their opening 13 games, Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side have now won seven and lost only three of their last 11, fully vindicating the board’s decision to keep faith with a manager once dubbed the “Alpine Klopp”.
The Saints have been particularly impressive away from home, winning each of their last four outings on the road including victories at Chelsea and Leicester, the latter exorcising some of the demons from that 9-0 humiliation.
Indeed, Southampton have won a higher proportion of their points away from home than any other team this season, and should they pull off a huge upset this weekend then it would be only the second time in their history that they have won five away league games on the bounce – and the first in the top flight.
Like Liverpool, Southampton have an FA Cup replay getting in the way of their mid-season break, but once they return to Premier League action after this weekend they have a kind run of fixtures to look forward to.
Indeed, Southampton’s next seven opponents after Liverpool are all currently below them in the table, and some fans may even be beginning to dream of European football next season – something which seemed a million miles away before their upturn in form.
Just three points now separate them from fifth-placed Manchester United – they are eight clear of the relegation zone – and with only the top four having won more games this season there is every possibility that they could capitalise on the inconsistency of those above them over the coming months.
First they must negotiate the toughest test in world football right now, though, and should they come away from Anfield with anything then those unlikely European aspirations will seem a lot more attainable.
Liverpool possible XI: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Salah, Firmino, Origi.
Southampton possible XI: McCarthy, Valery, Stephens, Vestergaard, Bertrand, Redmond, Ward-Prowse, Hojbjerg, Djenepo, Long, Ings.