It is almost impossible to predict the line-up manager Brendan Rodgers will use against any opponent, especially since it is the first game of the season and there are so many new players to integrate into the team. Last season, they used the 4-3-3 formation 14 times, the 4-2-3-1 nine times, and the 4-1-2-1-2 or 4-3-1-2 7 times. The variation in formations shows that Rodgers was not married to one single formation, and was also able to prepare his squad for every opponent. Now that the team will be competing in the Champions League as well, it will be interesting to see whether Rodgers can continue to pick out the right players and formations with less time to prepare.
The chances of getting the starting 11 correct are extremely low but I will try my best to predict it. I will use a 4-2-3-1 formation, the same formation Rodgers used against Borussia Dortmund a few days ago. It should also be noted that Liverpool will have an advantage over Southampton, not only because the match will be played at Anfield, but also because Southampton will be significantly weaker than last season. They lost many of their best players, and striker Jay Rodriguez is still recovering from a serious knee injury.
The Goalkeeper is set with Simon Mignolet now that Pepe Reina has left for Bayern Munich. Even though the team conceded many goals last season, Mignolet was not the main cause of many of them. The Belgian has quick reflexes and good hands, but he should become more commanding in the penalty area if he wants to improve himself.
The back line is the part of the team that has had the most turnover. Javier Manquillo performed well against Dortmund and he looks capable of making the right back position his own. Glen Johnson started most of the games last season but he constantly looked disinterested and tired. Even though Jon Flanagan is a right back, he does not provide the attacking impetus the Spaniard can.
The center back role is being fought for by three very strong candidates in Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, and new signing Dejan Lovren. Skrtel was excellent last season, scoring seven goals and making 36 appearances for the Reds. He should still remain a fixture on the defense, even though some see a partnership between Lovren and Sakho as the future. If there is one problem with Skrtel, it’s that he conceded way too many own goals last season.
Since he has proven he can compete in the Premier League, Lovren should be able to step-in right away at the other center back slot. I wrote about Lovren here, but basically, the Croatian will bring excellent passing from the defense which will help the quick, counter-attacking style that Liverpool played with last season. Against Dortmund, Lovren started many of the excellent passing sequences that could be a staple for Liverpool in the coming season.
Left back was a struggle last season, as Jose Enrique was injured for most of the year, while Flanagan was forced into the role even though he was playing on his weaker foot. Now it looks like new signing Alberto Moreno can step in and inject some much needed stability at the position. However, the Spaniard will have to wait at least another week to make his debut after failing to register on time. Since Jon Flanagan will be out for the game on Sunday as well (Pointed out by a comment below), it looks like Jose Enrique will be the default option. He should be eager to earn his first team place again after regaining his fitness.
The two central midfield positions are held down by two of the best in Jordan Henderson and captain Steven Gerrard. During the previous season, Henderson was a revelation, he finally fulfilled the potential he displayed before coming to Anfield. He has replaced the captain as the box-to-box midfielder the team has always had. While clearly not the only reason, his absence during the last few games of the title chase could have been a significant reason why the team was unable to bring the trophy home.
Similarly, Gerrard also surprised doubters as he changed not only his position, but also his playing style. Gone is the man who could sprint all over the field, bursting forward to essentially become a third striker while also being able to track back to help snuff out an attack at its early stages. Now, he has evolved to become a quarterback, spreading the ball out to players ahead of him. He is usually the first player to receive the ball after the defense stops an opponent’s attack, giving him more than enough time to survey the field and find the best way to counter.
There are multiple players competing for the three attacking midfield slots, however, two of the slots should definitely be filled by Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling. The two young players have proven that they are essential to the success of the team and hopefully they will remain at the club for many years to come. Even though Sterling can play in the no.10 role, I believe that Coutinho will be a better fit there, as he can unlock the opponent’s defense with clever passing. On the other hand, Sterling would return to the position that he originally played out wide on the right. His speed and dribbling ability could allow him to dominate in that position while also spreading out the opponent.
The other slot should have been filled by new signing, Adam Lallana but he is out for a couple of weeks after injuring himself in training. Emre Can was lined-up in the left side of the attacking midfield trio against Dortmund, and since former Benfica star Lazar Markovic won’t be healthy enough to start the game so why not keep Can there. The German midfielder should be able to settle into the Premier League easily because of his size and confidence on the ball. His willingness to help out on defense will help Liverpool get possession back from the Saints.
Finally, we arrive at the top with Daniel Sturridge. The England international will be pressured to improve his game even more, because the other half of “SAS” is gone in Luis Suarez. Sturridge has finally broken out after disappointing during his time at Chelsea, where he was unfairly placed out wide. Now that he has a coach who is willing to take full advantage of his talent in Rodgers, Sturridge can place himself front and center to be the next star of the English national team.