Southampton holds a slim 1-0 lead heading into their semi-final replay against Liverpool, but will be without key defender Virgil van Dijk.
Van Dijk limped out of the Saints’ 3-0 win over Leicester City last weekend with an ankle problem.Jack Stephens, an England Under-21 international could feature if Van Dijk is deemed unfit.
Club manager Claude Puel says he has no fears going into the second leg at Anfield even as Southampton aims for a first cup final since 2003.
“Of course, it is special to play at Liverpool but I think it will be an exciting game,” Puel said. “It is important for all of the players, the squad, to play this game with a positive attitude. It will be dangerous and not good to just defend and try to preserve this lead.”
On the other hand, while Liverpool has been stumbling slightly in the Premier League, the return of defender Joel Matip could make a crucial difference for the Reds.
Matip was included in the provisional Cameroon squad for the Africa Cup of Nations but was one of seven players to say they did not want to play. While FIFA could impose a ban on players on such grounds, Matip had since been cleared to play.
However, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp could also see that as the Merseyside club stumbles in the Premier League race, so does their enthusiasm for the other trophies declines too.
“You cannot just give up on a season when it still holds so many possibilities,” Klopp said. “We are in two cups and we must fight for a place in the Champions League. We are still close enough to fight for nearly everything. Is anyone really saying that if we cannot be champions we cannot enjoy the season?”
“We can improve on last season and that’s what we should all be aiming for. That is what I would regard as taking the next step. And if this is a long-term project, obviously that means we need to make a few steps. As long as we keep developing, that’s fine for me.”
Liverpool (2) – (0) Southampton