Saturday, March 16, 2013

Match Preview: Southampton vs Liverpool

Southampton will be looking to edge clear of trouble on Saturday, while bringing Liverpool's return to form to a shuddering halt.

The Saints head into the weekend precariously perched just four points clear of the drop zone.

A run of one win in eight has prevented the South Coast outfit from climbing the standings, with much of their season having been spent in and around the bottom three.

They do have fixtures against fellow strugglers to come, but will be keen to make the most of any game on home soil.

Liverpool, though, will arrive at St Mary's buoyed by a three-match winning run.

The Reds have fired themselves back into the hunt for European qualification, with there still an outside chance that they could force their way into the top four.

Brendan Rodgers will be eager for his side to maintain momentum and will be in mood to offer favours to a side scrapping for their top-flight lives.

Southampton have a clean bill of health, with no fresh injury or suspension concerns to contend with.

Danny Fox and Steven Davis were the only absentees in last weekend's 0-0 draw at Norwich but could feature for Mauricio Pochettino's side at St Mary's.

Vegard Forren played for the U21s again on Monday, so is a step closer to fitness.

Liverpool is sweating on the involvement of first-choice goalkeeper Jose Reina.

The Spanish shot-stopper sat out a 3-2 victory over Tottenham last time out with a calf problem and a decision is yet to be taken on his fitness heading into the weekend.

The Reds will, however, have Joe Allen available on Saturday, with the midfielder prepared to delay undergoing surgery on a shoulder complaint.

Rodgers: Liverpool Not Out Of Top-Four Race

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers believes any slip-ups from the Reds’ rivals could allow them to finish inside the top-four this season.

The Northern Irishman is confident that his side can make the most of their astounding recent form to up the pressure on their opponents in pursuit of the Champions League places.

Liverpool currently hold the sixth spot in the table. An epic 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur last week brought them within two and seven points from Arsenal and Chelsea respectively, having played a game more than their London rivals.

On Saturday, the Merseyside club will visit strugglers Southampton, eyeing a fifth consecutive league win – something that they have not achieved in four previous seasons.

Booming with confidence and playing arguably the best football in the Premier League at the moment, Rodgers feels his side can still finish ahead of Arsenal and Chelsea for the fourth place.

However, the 40-year-old manager admitted that the Reds need results elsewhere to go their way to lift their chances, and feels that it was that part of the campaign where teams cannot afford to slip-up.

He told reporters: "The teams above will know they can’t be making any slip-ups, not only because of us but for themselves.

"This is the stage of the season when you want to win games, and you have to win them. Our recent run of form shows without doubt we’re a team which is improving and developing.

“The result against Tottenham showed the further enhancement of that, and we have to maintain that form to keep moving forward."

Liverpool would have had a strong case of finishing inside the top-four had it not been for their shaky start which saw them register their first league win in the sixth match of the term. It was the club’s worst start in more than 100 years.

However, Rodgers was pleased to see them overcome a stuttering start and thinks that they have now acquainted themselves to his playing philosophy.

He added: “People know now we’re a different team compared to the start of the season, for sure.

“There is a different mentality now, but there is no point in us getting carried away and looking too far ahead. We can only concentrate on ourselves and get as many victories as we can.

“I’ve seen the change since the turn of the year when we got another two players with the profile that helps this way of working. Anyone watching the team regularly will see the amount of difference but as I said there is still a lot of work to do."

Liverpool finished eighth last season under former manager Kenny Dalglish.

Saints Aiming To Avoid Suarez Repeat

Luis Su├írez will return to St Mary’s on Saturday, with Saints hoping he does not repeat the dazzling performance he produced on his first ever visit to the stadium.

The Liverpool striker was part of the Ajax team that played Saints in a 2009 pre-season friendly, a game that doubled as a memorable welcome to the club’s new owner, Markus Liebherr.

The arrival of Liebherr in the director’s box, signalling a bright new future for the club, along with the official unveiling of Alan Pardew as manager, distracted much of the attention from the pitch that afternoon.

But it was hard for anyone inside St Mary’s to ignore the masterful performance produced by Su├írez, who scored twice as the Dutch side triumphed 4-1.

It says much for the progress of Saints over the last three-and-a-half years that they are now welcoming a player of his calibre for a competitive match.

But they will likely need to be at their best this weekend to avoid suffering a similar fate to the one in 2009, as the Uruguayan arrives on the south coast in a sensational run of form.

The Premier League’s top marksman has scored a sensational 15 times in his last 14 matches, and has netted 29 goals across all competitions for the Reds this season.

The 26-year-old’s influence on the Liverpool team has even been compared to that of Lionel Messi’s at Barcelona.

Pochettino Talks Up Coutinho

Mauricio Pochettino believes Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho possesses qualities similar to Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi.

The Brazilian has enjoyed a promising start at Anfield since joining from Inter Milan in January, and also attracted interest from Southampton during the transfer window.

Pochettino knows the 20-year-old midfielder well after coaching him during a loan spell at Espanyol last season, and admits he could cause Southampton problems when Liverpool visit St Mary's on Saturday.

"Philippe is a Brazilian player and, as it happens with most Brazilians, he has a special magic in his feet," said the Saints boss.

"Aside from the magic that he has, he also has an amazing work-rate and that makes us doubt whether he fits the mould of a typical Brazilian player or a European one because his work ethic is outstanding.

"What is important about him is he is a good lad, a good kid - a great, humble person.

"I do think Coutinho has that same quality that Ronaldinho and Messi have, but he has much to prove yet.

"What is really clear to me is that Coutinho is a really responsible player - really dedicated and responsible to his own players."

Sturridge Fit For Reds Run-In

Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge is looking to make the most of the club's last nine matches and finish the season on a high.

The £12million January signing has scored five goals in eight appearances but a thigh injury has forced him to sit out two matches during that time.

He returned for last weekend's 3-2 win over Tottenham but was understandably short of his previous sharpness.

However, he is now looking to push on in the final two months of the campaign.

"My fitness is fine," the 23-year-old told liverpoolfc.com. "When I came back for the Tottenham game I trained for a couple of days prior to that. I didn't feel as sharp as I could have.

"I'm not making excuses for not performing as well as I'd have liked to have done. I'm glad the team won and I was happy to help the team.

"We've got nine games left and its nine cup finals in my opinion. I'm hoping to remain fit and God willing I can for those nine games."

The Reds' current injury concern surrounds goalkeeper Jose Reina, who missed the last game with a calf injury.

His participation in training has been restricted this week and Rodgers will make a decision today on whether the Spain international travels with the squad to face Southampton on Saturday.

"He hasn't trained so much this week, but he's coming along better and had a real good response to some of the work," said the Reds boss.

"We'll find out by today for definite if he's going to be fit."

Midfielder Joe Allen also requires an operation to cure a long-term shoulder injury but the Liverpool manager said they would not stop the player joining Wales for their internationals this month.

"It is something he has been playing through," Rodgers said. "He has an operation he will probably need but he has been fine with it for a few years.

"Since October he has really felt it and it is something that, at the right time in the next couple of months, we'll look to get organized.

"But at this moment he is involved with the group and will be involved with the Wales squad and we'll look at it after that."

Liverpool Tracking Valencia Playmaker

Brendan Rodgers is debating whether to make a £9 million move for Valencia midfielder Sofaine Feghouli.

The Reds boss is targeting four signings ahead of next season as he bids to push the club towards Champions League qualification, with a playmaker among the areas set to be strengthened.

Valencia midfielder Feghouli is thought to be on Rodgers' shortlist, along with Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa, Fiorentina's Mounir El Hamdaoui and Ajax star Christian Eriksen.

According to reports in his homeland, Liverpool is prepared to offer around £9m to sign the 23-year-old former Grenoble player.

Algerian newspaper Le Buteur states that the Merseyside club is tracking Feghouli with a view to a bid this summer, although the Los Che star is not pushing for a move.

With his current contract set to run until 2016 after a recent extension, Valencia could play hard-ball with Liverpool for Feghouli who they value at closer to £15m.

Liverpool & Chelsea Face Competition For Croatia Defender

Liverpool and Chelsea have further competition in the race to sign promising defender Dejan Lovren as AC Milan is also interested.

According to talkSPORT, the 23-year-old interesting Anfield manager Brendan Rodgers and Stamford Bridge scouts has also impressed the San Siro club.

Lovren has excelled since he made the switch to Lyon from Dinamo Zagreb in 2010 and Liverpool’s interest may well be down to them looking for a long-term replacement for Jamie Carragher.

The Reds great confirmed he would be retiring from football at the end of the season, which will leave Rodgers short of one in defence.

Meanwhile, Chelsea captain John Terry is in the latter stages of his career and a reported interest in Lovren could be Blues owner Roman Abramovich setting up plans for when the veteran leaves.

However, both teams will now have to fight off interest from AC Milan as the Serie A side is looking for young talent as they carry on rebuilding their squad.

Lovren is an established Croatia international and has scored twice for Lyon.

Rodgers Rubbishes Loan Exits For Sterling & Suso

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has dismissed any suggestions that youngsters Raheem Sterling and Suso will leave the club on loan.

The pair, who came through the club’s youth system together, enjoyed regular appearances earlier in the season, earning rave reviews in the process but have seen themselves frozen out of the first-team picture a little recently.

Rodgers has been quick to point out, though, that despite the duo’s omission from the first-team squad of late, it doesn’t mean that he is willing to allow them to leave on a short-term loan deal.

"It's very simple, neither of them is available for loan," said Rodgers, as cited by Sky Sports.

"I'm not sure where the stories have come from, to be honest. They're both young players that have played a lot this year - they have been very much a part of the group.

"Raheem has been outstanding this year, he's only young and we need to nurture and protect him.

"We've got a very small squad and those two boys are an integral part of the group. That (loan deals) won't happen."

Sterling was in inspirational form at the start of the campaign, even earning himself an England call-up and debut in the 4-2 friendly defeat against Sweden in November of last year.

But he and Suso, who also appeared regularly with assured and confident displays earlier in the season, have dropped down the pecking order at Anfield at present with new boy Coutinho and the in-form Stewart Downing taking over Liverpool’s attacking options out wide.

Coutinho Inspired By Reds Stars

Liverpool forward Philippe Coutinho has been inspired by the "phenomenal" talents of Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard.

In the short time since he joined from Inter Milan in January the Brazil international has had chance to assess his new team-mates and believes they are 'out of this world'.

"Suarez is phenomenal - he is otherworldly," said the £8.5million signing.

"The goals he scores, the way he gives himself to the team...it is very important and I am very happy to be able to play next to him.

"I think it's the way he gives himself to the team. He doesn't let one ball go - even if it's the hardest one.

"He fights all the time to win and I admire that in a player. I think it is one of his strong points.

"I'm not only happy to play next to him, but also other players like Steven, who is phenomenal too. These are guys from another world!"

The 20-year-old has hit the gym in order to be able to cope with the physicality of the Premier League but has already made an impact, scoring once and providing two assists in just 202 minutes of football.

Gerrard has already hailed the youngster's "moments of magical brilliance" but Coutinho has been quick to understand that while Suarez, with 29 goals this season, and Gerrard are the key men there is a wider picture.

"What I have noticed in the last few weeks here is that the whole group is very united, strong and fights for their aims," he told liverpoolfc.com.

"I hope I can learn more and more with my team-mates here."

While the Brazilian hopes to get up to full speed as soon as possible, manager Brendan Rodgers is likely to cut him some slack after admitting his team-mates took a while to fully grasp the concepts he is instilling at Anfield.

The Reds boss, however, praised their courage for committing to the plan without question when he arrived in the summer.

That commitment and belief in the system is now starting to pay dividends as the side recorded a third successive league victory for the first time since May 2011 with Sunday's win over third-placed Tottenham.

"What we are seeing is the characteristics of the team, which is control and domination, but also a real steel to the defensive unit and everyone working for the cause and that is very important at the moment," said Rodgers.

"We are trying to form new ways of working and it is not easy for players, especially if you have worked a certain way with a certain manager and you bring in another manager who is a different man who works tactically different.

"There were some teething problems but staying calm was important for us.

"It is never easy. You want players to get on the ball and play but on the other side of that is to show your steel.

"In order to co-ordinate that it takes a bit of time but thankfully everyone has been really positive.

"You have to give credit to the players because they have continually believed and seen the development.

"You look at the quality of some of them but aligned to that is their courage.

"I inherited some very good players here but this season was a transition in many ways because of finances and there were management issues which I had to undertake coming in which were not just on the football operation.

"But the players have coped really well and slowly we have made a few additions and we hope we can do likewise in the summer.

"If we can do that over the course of the summer as each window goes by you start to see more of your type (of player), but that's taking nothing away from the players because they've been outstanding."

Liverpool head to struggling Southampton looking to maintain their winning run and try to close the seven-point gap on the top four but Rodgers stressed they were focused only on the next match.

"We can't get too far ahead of ourselves," he added.

"The second part of the season has been outstanding. We had a tough game physically and mentally against Tottenham and this week has been about getting refocused and re-energized for Southampton."

Ngoo Hopeful Of Winning Place At Liverpool

Hearts striker Michael Ngoo has stated that he hopes to earn a place in his parent club Liverpool's plans for next season.

The promising England youth international has notched three goals in his first four appearances on loan for the Maroons, endearing himself to local fans in the process.

Ngoo is set to start on Sunday against St. Mirren in the Scottish Communities League Cup final, and says he wants to break into the first team at Anfield in the near future.

"Maybe [Liverpool manager] Brendan [Rodgers] might be looking for other things in his team, like height and strength, so hopefully I have done enough to be considered in his plans for next season," he told the club's official website.

"I'm glad that I've been a challenge for very good defenders in my first ever top-flight run. I'm still young, I'm 20, and if I keep working and practicing then I could be a Plan B for Liverpool.

"They have DVDs of all of my performances. Even if they don't get to the game they'll see the DVD and I am always getting texts from the staff at Liverpool."

Nuri Sahin Slams Liverpool Boss

Nuri Sahin has criticized Liverpool manger Brendan Rodgers are he suffered an unhappy loan spell at the club earlier this season.

Sahin joined the Reds from Real Madrid at the start of the season but failed to make an impact at Anfield, managing just 12 appearances before moving back to his former club Borussia Dortmund.

"Brendan Rodgers wanted me to play as a 10. But I do not play behind the forwards," Sahin told Spanish newspaper AS.

"I spoke with him and asked him why I was playing there. It is not my real position. The boss could not answer me... still, I am not sorry about it.

"To play in the red jersey and be in Anfield is something marvellous.

"Maybe if I had not gone there I would not have been able to return to Borussia Dortmund. For that, I am happy.

"But I have left Brendan Rodgers, thanks be to God."

Sahin is enjoying his time back at Dortmund where he made his name before moving to the Bernabeu in 2011.

He said, "I feel well physically and mentally, everything is perfect. After returning to Germany, I feel much better."