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Liverpool vs Southampton: Salisu’s Saints strive to be third-time lucky

9:45 AM GMT+4 27/11/2021
Mohammed Salisu Southampton 2021-22
The centre-back faces the attacking talent of the Reds aiming to finally outdo a big side this term and turn the unchanging Anfield tide

Mohammed Salisu probably left Carrow Road gutted after his lapse in concentration gave Norwich City the fuel they needed to turn the game around.

For the first time since February 2020, the Canaries celebrated a Premier League win at home at the expense of a Southampton side that lost their four-game unbeaten run in Dean Smith’s bow as Norwich boss.

Salisu’s momentary lack of awareness and anticipation allowed Teemu Pukki level for the beleaguered home side who eventually got the winner late in the game.

The encounter against the struggling hosts was always going to be a banana skin, yet Saints probably had the better of the opportunities and deserved a point on the balance of play.

They edged the expected goals 1.2-0.7 and should have taken advantage of a strong first half in Norfolk. However, the feeling was familiar for Ralph Hasenhuttl whose side have not always been rewarded for admirable performances this term.

It is no surprise underlying statistics reveal the south coast outfit ought to be in the Premier League’s top half on the balance of their performances, around six places higher than 13th, yet they have to make do with being five points better off than third-bottom Burnley.

Indeed, two games have somewhat typified the inability of Hasenhuttl’s troops to claim what their play merited: away at Manchester City and against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

In the former, a resolute defensive shift saw Salisu and his colleagues hold City at bay and probably deserved more than the eventual 0-0 stalemate.

At the Bridge, despite facing a first-half onslaught against Thomas Tuchel’s team, the Ghanaian’s teammates held firm until James Ward-Prowse’s sending off with 13 minutes to play opened up the game.

The much-maligned Hasenhuttl had devised tactics to frustrate the crowd at the Etihad Stadium and adapted to curb Chelsea’s fluency after an impressive opening 45 minutes by the defending European champions.

Salisu’s defensive performance was particularly key in West London, where he made more tackles plus interceptions in 90 minutes and knew when to push to win the ball back or stay patient.

The 22-year-old was equally first to a plethora of loose balls on the day to keep the home side at bay for as long as Southampton could.

No test will come close to facing off with Mohamed Salah, the league’s top scorer with 11 goals, and Sadio Mane, the Senegal superstar who sits joint-second in the scoring charts on seven strikes, but Saturday’s visitors to Anfield should be fearless.

Having already come out of creditable showings against two of the league’s top three contenders, a trip to Merseyside, while daunting, is not necessarily a gimme for Jurgen Klopp’s team.

Of course, the Anfield giants are favourites as they often are on their turf; still, several showings so far this term have shown there are chinks in this Reds side which make them vulnerable.

Liverpool have dropped six points on their hallowed ground already this season, although two of those games coming against Chelsea and Manchester City is a noteworthy caveat.

The added precedent of largely swatting aside this weekend’s visitors in recent meetings further emphasises the daunting task facing this Saints outfit. The Reds have beaten the south coast side in seven of their last eight PL meetings, with their last four Anfield visits finishing with an aggregate score of 12-0.

Salisu’s Saints are winless in their last seven matches on Merseyside, losing five of those games, and many observers will reckon they do not have a prayer on Saturday.

However, with this Southampton iteration, there is some hope.

The greater defensive nous — their 14 goals conceded is by far the best in the bottom half — is commendable and they have alarmed the crowd at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge already this term.

While many will posit that the odds are stacked agianst them, Salisu and his contemporaries may not have a better chance of stunning Liverpool under Hasenhuttl, evidenced by this season’s precedent at the home of the aforementioned contenders.