Liverpool travel to the south coast on Sunday as they take on Southampton at St Mary’s. Liverpool will be looking to strengthen their grip on 3rd place whilst trying to make ground on Manchester United in 2nd. To get the lowdown on the opposition, we spoke to Southern Daily Echo’s Southampton reporter, Peter Howard.
There has been lots of speculation surrounding Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino, how would you summarise Southampton’s season so far?
It’s little surprise Mauricio Pellegrino has come under pressure, considering the way the team have played and the form. A bad start to the season was followed by a tough run of fixtures and subsequently Saints have ended up in a relegation scrap. Before Saturday’s win at West Bromwich Albion they hadn’t won in 12 matches in the league. Up until very recently, Pellegrino didn’t really know his best side but has now started to work out what clicks and they have started to play much better now.
It’s not been an easy season, to say the least, and the fans have wanted Pellegrino’s head to roll. However, the board have stuck by him and backed him. There were early promises of attacking football, but it hasn’t happened yet – although there are now glimmers of hope. Saints are in a position they’ve not been used to in recent years and no one is happy about it.
When these two sides met earlier in the season, Southampton showed little desire to attack, do you expect to see a different style at St Mary’s?
It has been quite typical of Saints to go deep and defend away at the big sides this season, but at St Mary’s they will try to impose themselves more. They would have taken confidence from an excellent display in the 1-1 draw against Tottenham recently and have also put in a good display against Manchester United (L 1-0) and Arsenal (1-1) at St Mary’s. More than anything, the Anfield game was a really bad day at the office for Saints. They did well in the opening half hour but once Salah had given Liverpool the lead they lost their way badly
Virgil van Dijk obviously joined Liverpool in January, are you expecting a hostile reception on Sunday?
Yes, he’ll get a fairly hostile reception, I’m sure. Although, in saying that, I’m sure there will be some choice words lobbed at Dejan Lovren as well. In fairness, most Saints fans fully expected Van Dijk to leave in January, so these circumstances come as no surprise.
He never made a secret of his desire to leave in the summer, but Saints fans didn’t really acknowledge much of what happened in the transfer window when he eventually came back into the team.
I’m sure that won’t last, though, as Saints really need their fans to get behind them. They need wins badly and the supporters know that.
Which one Southampton player do Liverpool really need to be wary of?
It’s a hard pick at the moment, but I’d have to say James Ward-Prowse. His set pieces are top notch and they’ve started to yield goals now. He’ll be looking to get Jack Stephens, who has scored three in three, on the end of corners and new big man Guido Carillo will no doubt be a recipient of his deliveries too.
Ryan Bertrand can’t be ignored either. If he gets going down the left side, he can be a brilliant attacking threat.
Turning to Liverpool now, how would you rate our season as an outsider?
Improved but punctuated by familiar problems. I feel Klopp needs to win something now to begin backing up all these glimpses of brilliance. It doesn’t look like happening this season, though. That FA Cup defeat to West Brom just summed it all up; beat Manchester City, lose to Swansea and West Brom. It must be seriously frustrating for Liverpool fans.
Do you feel Southampton stand more of a chance now Liverpool are without the services of Philippe Coutinho?
I feel that Coutinho had the magic that sometimes really unlocked some of the teams that would go more defensive. Against teams who are willing to attack; the Firmino, Mane, Salah axis just rip through the space and get goals that way.
Coutinho would more likely unpick more defensive teams with a long range strike or a decent ball in. But, let’s face it, Firmino, Mane and Salah are frightening enough as it is, Coutinho just added another dynamic.
Liverpool have enough in attack to win any game without Coutinho.
Finally, what’s your score prediction for Sunday’s match?
A big thanks to Peter Howard for his contribution to this piece.