Liverpool vs. Southampton: FA Cup Round of 16 Preview

Can the Reds keep moving forward in England's biggest knockout competition?

Liverpool are once again League Cup champions, after Virgil van Dijk’s last-minute header avoided yet another cup final penalty shootout against Chelsea. However, there’s no time for the Reds to rest on their laurels, as the other component of a domestic cup double awaits; the FA Cup. 

This Wednesday, Liverpool will face Championship side Southampton in the Fifth Round Proper of England’s oldest club competition, also known as the Round of 16.

Several top sides have already been knocked out this season, and Liverpool are far from untouchable against a team that is highly motivated to prove that it deserves a shot to return to the ranks of England’s finest. 

With plenty of key fixtures just on the horizon and lots of fitness issues to monitor, let’s get into our preview for Liverpool’s FA Cup matchup with Southampton this Wednesday. 

Top of the Pitch

In a perfect world, Mo Salah and Darwin Nunez would probably both have the day off against a Championship side, or they’d at least come off the bench.

However, this is not a perfect world, and as injuries stack up for the Reds, they’re both back in training and might have to rush their recoveries just a bit.

Harvey Elliott had a nice showing on the right wing in the EFL Cup final, but with two fresh injuries to the midfield, and several existing ones, he might have to drop back on the pitch this time.

Academy forward Jayden Danns saw his first extended senior action against Chelsea, as he entered late in regulation and played a lively 33 minutes after playing just a minute in his official Premier League debut against Luton.

An FA Cup knockout match would be a wild setting for his very first senior start for the Reds, but if Klopp wants to prioritize the Premier and Europa leagues and rest his star forwards, that could be our reality. 

We’ll likely see Cody Gakpo and Luis Díaz, which again, would likely not be true given regular levels of team fitness. These two have been playing a lot of football and are likely worn thin, especially Díaz who looked a bit ragged after the Chelsea match.

Still, they’ve performed admirably and could be in the lineup again given the other constraints, unless Klopp decides to go with an extremely Academy-heavy lineup. 

Southampton’s defense is the seventh-best in the Championship in terms of goals scored, with fullback Kyle Walker-Peters and centre-back Jan Bednarek leading the way. On an average day, they might not be much of a test for the Liverpool attack, but we’ll see who exactly is on the pitch in Klopp’s XI.

The Midfield

Wataru Endō was immense in Liverpool’s win over Chelsea, as he played all 120 minutes, but he surely paid the price as he left the ground on crutches.

The good news is that as of Tuesday, he was back at the training ground without any sort of protective equipment, so that’s nice to see for his overall prognosis but it’s still not likely that he’ll be good to go against Southampton.

Similarly, Ryan Gravenberch was stretchered off after a questionable tackle from Chelsea’s Moises Caicedo, and will definitely miss this game, as will regular starter Curtis Jones and probably Dominik Szoboszlai.

Alexis Mac Allister will have to be the hero this time out. He’s in a good run of form, but it’s hard to know who might be starting alongside him. Expect Harvey Elliott to slide down from the right wing as the forward group picks up a bit of health, while youngsters Bobby Clark and James McConnell could show up.

Both Academy standouts played meaningful roles towards the end of the Chelsea match, and McConnell even started in the last round of this competition, as he contributed an assist and earned a FotMob score of 8.0 across 79 solid minutes of play against Norwich City. 

Southampton is the best possession side in the Championship, with an impressive average figure of 66.6%.

Central midfielders Stuart Armstrong and Flynn Downs have both been immense in the middle of the Saints’ 4-3-3 formation, and could provide a real challenge for Liverpool’s teenagers.

The Back End

Finally, the defense just might be Liverpool’s healthiest position group, although they’ve earned that distinction mostly through process of elimination.

Joel Matip and Trent Alexander-Arnold are still out, but there’s no lack of central defenders, and Conor Bradley and Andy Robertson are suddenly one of the best fullback duos in the sport.

Kostas Tsimikas, Joe Gomez, and Jarell Quansah are all good to go as well, making this the only position group where Liverpool currently have anything closely resembling depth. 

Given this fact, and with huge matches against Sparta Prague and Manchester City on the horizon, Virgil van Dijk could get a rare day off after playing the full match against Chelsea.

Alternately, Liverpool could paper over their frailties in other areas of the pitch by breaking out of Klopp’s customary 4-3-3 setup and run a five-man back line, with Robertson or Tsimikas, who assisted van Dijk’s Carabao Cup winner, and Bradley flanking any three out of Gomez, Quansah, van Dijk, and Ibrahima Konaté.

This could be a good way to protect some injured players on the mend, while also strengthening at the back as the lack of forward and midfield options could force the Reds into a very different play style from what they usually display.

Southampton’s biggest star this year has undoubtedly been striker Adam Armstrong, who has had success before at the Championship level with 28 goals for Blackburn back in 2020-21.

He owns a team-high average match rating to go along with 16 goals and 11 assists in league play, which put him atop the league in total goal contributions.

His battle with the Liverpool defense, including Carabao Cup legend Caoimhin Kelleher with Alisson still hurt, will likely be the best positional matchup in this game, although he’ll be hard-pressed to find the upper hand.