Southampton have been a difficult opponent for Liverpool in the Brendan Rodgers era, and as a possibly defining clash looms in the race for the top four, it's time to find out more about one of the "surprise packages" of the season. The best way is to find someone in the know, and we've interrupted Jake Hughes of SB Nation's Southampton blog, St. Mary's Musings, to pester him with some questions.
The Liverpool Offside: Hello Jake, thanks for taking the time to satisfy our collective curiosity at TLO towers. Liverpool's form since the turn of the year has been widely praised, but over the past six league games, Southampton have only picked one point fewer than Brendan Rodgers' side. Are Southampton favourites with a far superior goal difference, a four-point lead, and home advantage?
St. Mary's Musings: I don't think so. Southampton's problem of late has been a lack of goals which has been saved by a stingy defence. We were fortunate in our away wins against Newcastle and QPR, while we were found wanting in home games against West Ham and Swansea. Home advantage doesn't seem to mean a lot for Saints right now, having not won at home since New Year's Day against Arsenal.
However, Liverpool look more than capable of scoring goals while their defence has tightened up since that waste of space Dejan Lovren had been dropped to the bench. One thing I don't think has been mentioned enough is how both Liverpool and Tottenham's form has picked up over the last couple of months when there has been no European football in the week. Here's hoping the Europa League curse strikes again!
The Liverpool Offside: Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger has recently lauded the work of Ronald Koeman. Tactically, Southampton were impressive under Mauricio Pochettino with the high-pressing approach that saw the Argentine become one of the league's most sought after managers. After all the players your club has lost along with its former tactical leader, how has Koeman improved Southampton?
St. Mary's Musings: Koeman has said it himself: we are more efficient. That rings true with multiple aspects of this season's Saints side as they are a lot less reckless in both possession and in expending energy like we did under Pochettino with our high-pressing style as you mentioned. Southampton still like to press from the front, but it's a much more sensible approach than last season.
Our 3-0 loss at home to Liverpool last season was much to do with Pochettino getting his pressing tactics all wrong and we were left exposed at the back. I expect this to be a much tighter, cagey affair.
The Liverpool Offside: Southampton have had great success in the summer and January transfer windows. This may be a difficult question to ask, considering the fine contributions of all the players brought in, is there a signing who the fans feel could bring a lot more to the team over the coming months?
St. Mary's Musings: As mentioned before, the team is really struggling for goals and I, like many other Saints fans, think the club made a mistake in not signing an out-and-out striker to help alleviate all the pressure put on Graziano Pellè. I believe the club have been a bit overly-reliant on expecting Jay Rodriguez to regain fitness before the end of the season. But, as we all know, recovery times for serious cruciate knee injuries are very unpredictable.
The Liverpool Offside: They are indeed. Just picking up on your observation, I think the form of Graziano Pellè is going to be important over the coming months. He's scored eight league goals but hasn't scored in the Premier League since early December in the home defeat to Manchester United. Sadio Mané, Shane Long, and Dusan Tadić chip in with goals, but Southampton really need the Italian firing again.
St. Mary's Musings: Spot on. That's not to say Pellè hasn't contributed to team goals: his hold up play is essential in our attack. But, due to his early goal-scoring reputation and his lack of pace, Premier League defences have taken a shine to him and he's struggling to overcome all this attention he's receiving. He looks pretty isolated up top on his own.
The Liverpool Offside: It was interesting to see how Southampton responded after that five-game losing streak in December. Southampton collected seven points from nine against Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal. Can we expect a similar outcome on Sunday?
St. Mary's Musings: It's hard to say. I really think this has a bore draw or annoyingly-close loss written all over it. But, then again I am very much a glass half-full kind of guy in the hope we exceed my lowly expectations!
The Liverpool Offside: Finally, after what you've seen this season, will Southampton make the top four?
St. Mary's Musings: I don't think so. I've resisted dreaming of Champions League football all season to avoid crushing disappointment, but I'd be a liar if I was to say it hadn't crossed my mind. I just think our squad isn't deep enough to mount a serious challenge: we haven't had a fully-fit squad all season.
Saints have done fantastic this season: we were second favourites to be relegated according to many of the UK's leading bookmakers! All I hoped for was a safe mid-table berth to stick it to all the pre-season naysayers. No matter what ends up happening, I can honestly say I've never been more proud to be a Saint.
I managed to cobble a few answers for Jake on St. Mary's Musings. You can follow St. Mary's Musings on twitter and Jake's own twitter is in the bio there as editor. Many thanks to Jake once again for his answers, and hopefully both clubs can finish the season strongly after a Liverpool victory on Sunday.