Liverpool’s 2022/23 season comes to an end next Sunday as they travel to already-relegated Southampton.
As a result, while it is still possible for it to emerge as a final throw of the dice for a top-four finish for the Reds, it could equally end up being just a Premier League dead-rubber.
Jurgen Klopp’s men need one of Newcastle United or Manchester United to lose both of their remaining matches to stand any chance of finishing in the top four. With the Magpies and the Red Devils back in action on Monday and Thursday respectively, in all likelihood the top four will be out of reach come the time Liverpool travel to the South coast.
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Equally, they could have fifth place wrapped up by the time they take on Southampton. Having already qualified for next season’s Europa League, the Reds currently lead sixth-placed Brighton & Hove Albion by five points, but have played a game more.
The Seagulls host Manchester City on Wednesday and need to win to keep their own hopes of fifth alive. Drop points and the place is Liverpool’s, with their trip to Southampton then officially a dead-rubber. If Brighton win, a point would be enough for the Reds on the final day, regardless of Robert De Zerbi’s side’s result, barring a big turnaround in goal difference.
As a result, it remains to be seen if Klopp’s side will actually have anything to play for at St. Mary’s. If they need the points, expect the German to name close to his strongest side. If not, he would have nothing to lose by making wholesale changes.
Kelleher comes in?
With David De Gea having already wrapped up the Premier League Golden Glove award, Alisson Becker could be given an early start to his summer, if Klopp wishes, providing there is nothing to play for at St. Mary’s.
If still fighting for fifth, or even fourth, the Brazilian will retain his place and secure an ever-present status in the Premier League this season. Otherwise, Caoimhin Kelleher could come in for only his fourth appearance of the season, and first outing in the English top-flight since Liverpool’s 2-2 draw away at Chelsea in January 2022.
Time for Tsimikas
Liverpool’s first-choice back four has been undisputed in recent weeks during their 10-game unbeaten run, but it would be no surprise if Kostas Tsimikas was handed a rare start in place of Andy Robertson against Southampton.
If the Reds again continue with their inverted full-back system, then Trent Alexander-Arnold is likely to keep his place at right-back. However, Joel Matip or Joe Gomez could both be given a final outing of the season at the expense of Ibrahima Konate, or even Virgil van Dijk against his former club. After all, the pressure could be off.
However, a further curveball could be experimenting with Alexander-Arnold actually in midfield, with Gomez then filling in at right-back. It’s a glorified friendly by the beach at this rate.
Made for Milner but what about Arthur?
If there is something riding on Sunday’s game, expect Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, and Curtis Jones to go again in midfield. However, Klopp has options if he fancies a change, with Harvey Elliott a possible starter.
With James Milner leaving the club at the end of his contract this summer, it remains to be seen if Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa at Anfield will act as his farewell, or if he has one final outing in his Liverpool career. If selected, he could start and even captain the side.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is less likely to start against his former club, having been missing from the matchday squad since the 4-1 defeat away at Man City at the start of last month. The same can be said for Naby Keita, who still hasn’t returned to team training after suffering an injury during the March international break.
While it would be understandable if the pair’s Anfield careers are already over as a result, as they eye up Bosman transfers without wanting the risk of injury scuppering their next switch, Arthur Melo could be handed his Premier League debut before returning to Juventus if Klopp is feeling sentimental. Still limited to just 13 minutes of action for the Reds, coming back in September, Liverpool have paid for him for the year so might as well use him properly at least once!
Fabio Carvalho and youngster Bobby Clark are also options if Klopps chooses to rotate.
Firmino farewell as Salah starts
Like with Milner, it remains to be seen if Roberto Firmino has played his last game for Liverpool or if he’ll be involved against Southampton. Having scored the equaliser against Aston Villa, why not hand the Brazilian one final start?
Mohamed Salah will keep his place on the right, though. The Egyptian is still chasing his 20th Premier League goal of the season, with his next goal also ensuring he equals the second-most prolific campaign of his career. Meanwhile, he has 45 overall goal contributions for the season, with one more goal or assist also equalling the second-most productive year of his career.
Darwin Nunez doesn’t need to be risked if still suffering a toe injury, with Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota vying for that final starting place as a result. Having seen their campaigns wrecked by injury, both will want to finish strongly.
However, Elliott, Carvalho, or even highly-rated teenager Ben Doak are options if Klopp fancied changing things up further.
So, if fourth is still somehow possible, or Liverpool still need points to wrap up fifth, don’t expect many changes. But if the Reds have entered ‘on the beach’ territory, then there is no harm in making a change or nine as the Firmino and Milner farewells continue and the Premier League finally gets to see what Arthur Melo has in his locker!