Ralph Hasenhuttl believes “everything is possible” for Liverpool this season, with winning at Anfield “the biggest challenge in football” for Southampton.
The Austrian has overseen a dramatic upturn in fortunes at St Mary’s since the end of November, and the Saints now sit ninth in the table heading into the weekend.
Southampton have sealed wins of the likes of Chelsea, Leicester and Tottenham in their last six games in the Premier League, but face a much tougher test when they visit Anfield on Saturday.
Speaking at his pre-match press conference on Thursday, Hasenhuttl emphasised the difficulty Southampton will face against the runaway league leaders, though he took a much more positive approach than David Moyes days previous.
“If you see them play, how strong in every position they are, then everything is possible,” he said, assessing the Reds’ hopes of success.
“They always seem to stay hungry, and this is what you have to be if you want to be a top team. It’s a good challenge.”
This notion of a “challenge” is how Hasenhuttl will motivate his players—far removed from Moyes’ hope for “luck“—as they aim to step up to the “next level.”
“It would be normal that we lose, but this season is everything but normal for us; not normal in the positive and not normal in the negative way,” he told reporters.
“So I don’t expect a normal game from our side at the weekend, we are in a good shape, we have a few problems with injuries but the squad is concentrated on working.
“We know about the difficulty of this challenge, but we need this challenge.
“Because if you want to go to the next level in your development—and we played against Chelsea, Leicester, all the teams away and we did a good job—I want to see how far we are, and how well we can compete against such a top team.”
Southampton suffered a 2-1 loss to the Reds back in August, though the scoreline arguably flattered the south coast side, and Hasenhuttl stressed that sealing victory would be “the biggest challenge you can imagine in football.”
“In general every team can lose games, and also Liverpool had a few tight games, but in the end they were always the winning team,” he continued.
“So if you want to take something we must be mentally better than them, which is not so easy—and also tactically, and [they are] also a very, very committed and organised team.
“So it’s the biggest challenge you can imagine in football at the moment, but this is exactly what we want to have and we are thankfully or this.”
Southampton will be without loan signing Kyle Walker-Peters, as he adjusts to life at his new club, and Cedric Soares has joined Arsenal, while Hasenhuttl ruled out Stuart Armstrong before adding “the rest look good.”
He was inevitably asked about Jurgen Klopp‘s stance on the winter break clashing with FA Cup replays, and though he took a different stance the 52-year-old dismissed criticism of his counterpart.
“That’s not right, ‘he’s not there, the team is not there’, that’s not right. They are playing this game, they are there,” he added.
“Maybe not with the best team, but still they have enough quality I think to take it seriously.
“For us, I think it’s not about discussing if this is right or not, it’s better to look on ourselves.
“We also have a game this week, I think we have the shortest winter break of all the teams in the Premier League because we play on Wednesday evening.
“And the message I can send to my players is that every opportunity to show up, every opportunity to make something big, you should take with both hands.
“We are hungry, we want to go there and we want to play there.
“[We believe we can win], otherwise we don’t have to go there. If you don’t dream about that you can stay at home, and we will definitely be there.”