Predicted Liverpool lineup vs Southampton: Sterling back in contention

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Liverpool return to Premier League action on Sunday afternoon for a vital fixture against top four rivals Southampton. Ben Twelves takes a look at the team selection options available to Brendan Rodgers for the match.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, February 19, 2015: Liverpool's players line up for a team group photograph before the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 1st Leg match against Besiktas JK at Anfield. Front row L-R: Daniel Sturridge, Mamadou Sakho, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, Martin Skrtel, Emre Can, Jordon Ibe. Front row L-R: Jordan Henderson, Alberto Moreno, Joe Allen, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, Philippe Coutinho Correia. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After a successful European night in midweek, Liverpool turn their attention back to Premier League duties where Rodgers’ side go in search of a fourth straight win in another pivotal match in the battle for Champions League qualification.

The Reds have managed to drag themselves into genuine top four contention – confirmed with the 3-2 victory over Tottenham at Anfield – and they now sit just four points behind the fourth placed Saints, who will certainly provide the toughest of tasks for Rodgers and his tiring squad.

Liverpool overcame Koeman’s side on the opening day of the season but since then the two teams have endured extremely contrasting journeys so far this campaign.

After a long road to recovery, the Reds are now in the hunt to catch the south coast outfit who like Rodgers’ men, have picked up four wins in their last six league matches.

Rodgers has the unenviable balancing act of keeping his side refreshed and competitive, and Liverpool will have to continue their improved defensive resilience alongside having to breach the Premier League’s meanest defence, in order to emerge victorious from the most important fixture of the league season to date.

 

The Team

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 10, 2015: Liverpool's Lazar Markovic celebrates scoring the first goal against Tottenham Hotspur during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There are no new injury doubts for the Reds boss, but Lazar Markovic is available to return to match-day involvement after serving the first of a four game European  suspension on Thursday night, and with fresh legs needed the Serbian could head straight into the starting XI.

Rodgers’ back up options are wearing thin thanks to injuries keeping Brad Jones, Jon Flanagan, Jose Enrique, Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard side-lined, but Kolo Toure is available for selection and the Liverpool manager could shuffle his pack by recalling the experienced Ivorian to the fold.

The African Nations Cup champion’s possible presence in the back three could allow Emre Can to shuffle into midfield from the beginning – after he moved into a central midfield role again on Thursday – where the German could provide an extra physicality to the middle of the park in place of Joe Allen.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 13, 2014: Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho Correia in action against Aston Villa during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

18 consecutive starts for Philippe Coutinho have left the Brazilian looking jaded meaning Rodgers could decide to hold the magician in reserve with Markovic and Sterling available to come into the side, but Jordan Henderson is set to lead the Reds once more in Gerrard’s absence.

After a third successive positive impact from the bench, Mario Balotelli will be hopeful of finally being rewarded with a start alongside Daniel Sturridge where a potentially exciting strike-partnership awaits.

 

The Line Up

Despite many calling for Can to move into his more natural position, Rodgers has spoken of retaining consistency at the back and with the need to keep momentum as the Reds look to close the gap on the top four again, changes are likely to be minimal.

Coutinho’s subsequent decline in form could see him used as an impact substitute and replaced in the starting XI, with Raheem Sterling the likely candidate to come in for the magician.

That solitary change would see Liverpool line up like this on Sunday afternoon:

Southampton 1 change

However, with games in such close proximity the Northern Irishman could opt to introduce another pair of fresh legs to his side and there are a couple of options available.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, February 19, 2015: Liverpool's Mario Balotelli celebrates scoring the first goal against Besiktas JK from the penalty spot during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 1st Leg match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Markovic could be the choice to come back into one of the attacking midfield roles, but Balotelli should be the man to enter the team following his impressive cameo appearances over the last three matches, in place of Adam Lallana who disappointed on Thursday night.

With Balotelli joining Sterling as a second change in the starting team, this is how Liverpool could look come kick-off time at St Mary’s:

Southampton 2 changes

Liverpool took a significant step in becoming realistic challengers for the top four last time out, and it is imperative that Rodgers’ side take another big step forward on Sunday, with maximum points making it well and truly game on in the race for fourth place.

Pick your XI:

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