Liverpool bring the curtain down on their 2022-23 season when they travel to Southampton on Sunday (16.30 BST).
In truth, the trip to the south coast - one of the longest away games of the campaign - isn’t exactly the ideal place to bow out. Had the Reds still had something to play for, Kopites would make the 472-mile round trip with gusto. Instead, they’ll head to St Mary’s set to watch what effectively will be a dead rubber.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are not out of the Premier League top-four race just yet. But with Newcastle United already securing Champions League qualification, there is just one berth up for grabs. And in their final two games, Manchester United need to accrue just a single point in home games against Chelsea of Fulham. It’s looking highly unlikely after last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Aston Villa.
Indeed, there doesn’t appear to be much to play for against a Southampton side who have already finished at the foot of the table and jettisoned into the Championship.
Granted, Klopp will want to end on a high. Victory at St Mary’s will mean Liverpool conclude the season having won eight of their last nine games - and gone 11 matches unbeaten. After what’s been a lacklustre campaign, missing out on the Champions League and failing to challenge for any silverware, taking momentum into 2023-24 will be pivotal.
But the Reds boss will also be aware that there are members of his squad who’d like an opportunity to impress. One final chance to get minutes under their belt.
Goalkeeper and Defence
Alisson Becker is primed to be named Liverpool’s Player of the Season. The goalkeeper has come to the rescue on countless occasions and has proven why he’s among the best in the world.
As a result, Caoimhin Kelleher has remained Alisson’s understudy. The Republic of Ireland international has made just three appearances all season - all in cup competitions. There has been talk of a possible departure for Kelleher in the summer in a bid for regular first-team action. Klopp has insisted it would take an ‘extraordinary offer’ to sell the 24-year-old but he’ll want reassurances he may play more next term - and an outing against Southampton can prove that.
In defence, Kostas Tsimikas has again been Andy Robertson’s deputy on the left-hand side and deserves a chance. Ibrahima Konate has played the past five games and he may be rested given that he’s had injuries this term.
There is a possibility that Virgil van Dijk could be handed respite but Klopp may not want to make too many changes at the back. He, therefore, could be partnered by Joel Matip or Joe Gomez, with Nat Phillips not being spotted in training for the previous few weeks.
Given how the Reds have changed tactics of late, Trent Alexander-Arnold is the only real player suited to operating in the right-back/ centre-midfield hybrid role.
Klopp will surely hand James Milner a final Liverpool appearance. The vice-captain has been a loyal servant since arriving on a free transfer from Manchester City in 2015. Milner has been at the fulcrum of the success delivered under Klopp and may wear the skipper’s armband should Jordan Henderson be rested.
Harvey Elliott played in each of the Reds’ opening 42 games of the campaign but has been reduced to a bit-part role of late. He could come in for Curtis Jones, who has been exceptional during his spell in the side. However, Klopp may also give Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a farewell outing. The 29-year-old hasn’t been involved in the past 10 match-day squads.
Fabinho is the only natural defensive midfielder who is fit with Stefan Bajcetic still sidelined. But then there is Arthur Melo, who’ll leave Merseyside to return to Juventus after his season-long loan. The Brazil international has managed just one 13-minute cameo since joining - mainly because of a four-month absence because of a thigh injury - but could be rewarded for his efforts in training since recovering. Klopp praised Arthur’s professionalism and ability in his Villa programme notes.
Roberto Firmino fittingly signed off his final outing at Anfield as a Liverpool player with a goal. Yet that was the striker’s first appearance in seven games, having had a muscle injury. While Firmino will want to feature from the outset, he’ll not want his issue to recur ahead of a summer move elsewhere.
Darwin Nunez has been nursing a toe problem and he may not be risked. That means that Klopp may decide between a front three of Mo Salah, Cody Gakpo, Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota.
The latter did not start against Villa but Diaz fell below his usual standards. But if Klopp is giving out opportunities to those on the periphery of things then perhaps Fabio Carvalho could come into the equation.