Liverpool to win the title, “legend” Danny Ings, and how Southampton turned it around

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Liverpool have won just two away games so far this season and another tricky trip kicks off 2021 with the visit to Southampton on Monday night.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men could only draw away to Newcastle on Wednesday evening, finishing 2020 in rather flat fashion with a fifth draw in nine league games.

It means Liverpool have still only won twice on the road in the Premier League this season, with draws at Brighton, Fulham and Newcastle particularly frustrating.

Next up for the Reds is the trip to St Mary’s after the weekend action, in a fixture that is rarely straightforward.

Ralph Hasenhuttl is doing a superb job as Southampton manager, getting his team playing attractive football, not to mention pushing for a top-six finish.

Ahead of the game, we spoke to Saints supporter and writer Luke Osman (@lukeosman_) to hear all about his side’s season and whether Liverpool will retain their league crown.

 

How happy are you with Southampton’s start to the campaign?

Southampton got off to a start that none of us could ever have foreseen.

We topped the Premier League table for the first time in the club’s history and went on a seriously impressive run; not just of results, but exhilarating performances, too.

We played some excellent stuff and have improved enormously in possession – we are no longer dependent on our counter-pressing to create chances.

Recently, though, there’s been a slide, and it owes to a few reasons. The injuries to Jannik Vestergaard and Danny Ings have halted our progress at both ends of the pitch.

They are both vital players for Hasenhuttl, and beyond our starting lineup, we don’t have an awful lot in the way of depth.

This issue, coupled with a brutally intense style of play, meant that a drop-off was to be expected.

Fatigue is setting in for most teams by the looks of things, and given the physical exertion that the counter-pressing approach demands, it’s no shock to see us tail off a little as the fixtures pile up.

 

What has been the secret to their rise in the last 12 months since losing 9-0 to Leicester?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 17, 2019: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp and Southampton's manager Ralph Hasenhüttl before the FA Premier League match between Southampton FC and Liverpool FC at St. Mary's Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It’s hard to put my finger on one key aspect. Plenty of neutrals have praised our board for sticking with Hasenhuttl, but we’ve always been punching above our weight with a coach as good as him; we were never going to attract anyone better.

He’s not without his faults, but Hasenhuttl has turned things around miraculously, and we’ve amassed 56 points – the fifth-best in the Premier League – in the calendar year of 2020.

He’s dragged this club up from its knees, revamped its footballing ethos from the academy to the first team and has drastically improved numerous under-performing players.

In reverting to his favoured 4-2-2-2 system and spending more time with the squad, he’s been able to bring back some of the good times.

Football behind closed doors has probably contributed to the general upturn in form, too. Hasenhuttl is an excellent coach, but clearly an adept motivator as well.

With no fans in stadiums, he’s been able to guide Saints through games and deliver his tactical instructions with even greater clarity from the sidelines, giving us an advantage over the somewhat less savvy managers.

 

Has former Liverpool man Danny Ings exceeded all expectations at St Mary’s?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Thursday, October 8, 2020: England's Dominic Calvert-Lewin (R) celebrates after scoring the first goal with team-mate Danny Ings during the International Friendly match between England and Wales at Wembley Stadium. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK Government’s social distancing laws prohibiting supporters from attending events inside stadiums as a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Absolutely. He is a genuinely marvellous footballer.

I think I speak for each and every Southampton supporter when I say that he is loved very, very dearly here, particularly given that he’s one of our own.

Ings carried a reputation of being a gifted striker with a desperately unlucky track record of injuries. In his first season here, he lived up to this reputation, scoring some important goals but being largely hampered by hamstring issues, particularly in the second half of the campaign.

Last term, though, was the best of his career. He was fit for the duration of the season and scored 25 goals in all competitions – some were instinctive tap-ins, some saw him meddle with defenders and others were from range.

He’s got it all, and particularly in light of his two goals at Portsmouth in our 4-0 win at Fratton Park, it’s safe to say that he’s achieving – if he hasn’t already achieved it – a legendary status here.

This season, he’s been largely very good again, but injuries haven’t helped him. He’s had minor knee surgery and has been nursing a hamstring issue of late.

When he’s fully fit and match ready, though, he’ll once again become our talisman, and hopefully score plenty more goals for us.

 

Who have been Saints’ three best players so far this season?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 1, 2020: Liverpool's Georginio Wijnaldum (L) and Southampton's James Ward-Prowse during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Southampton FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jannik Vestergaard, for me, has been the Player of the Season, and he’s also been the biggest surprise.

It’s fair to say that the majority of supporters, myself included, would have gladly seen the back of him in the summer transfer window after two pretty terrible campaigns, but he’s been incredibly good.

His passing has been delightful – Virgil van Dijk-esque – and he’s been rock solid at the back. He deserves a lot of credit for his transformation, and so does Hasenhuttl for developing him.

James Ward-Prowse closely follows in second. He’s our captain, he plays every single minute and he is relentless.

His set-pieces have obviously been most eye-catching this season, but he is an extraordinarily well-rounded midfielder and doesn’t get the acclaim he deserves outside of the Southampton fanbase. He’s been exceptional again this term.

Thirdly, I’d say Kyle Walker-Peters. He was brilliant post-lockdown last season, and since joining permanently, he has been pretty faultless.

Few players at the club are better with the ball at their feet and he’s been consistently strong at the back.

Che Adams, Alex McCarthy and Oriol Romeu deserve honourable mentions, too.

 

Switching our attention to Liverpool, do you still see them as the team to beat?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 27, 2020: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates after scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and West Bromwich Albion FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Without a doubt. While some of the bizarre results this season have proven that you’re not impenetrable, Liverpool remain the best team in the world.

With everyone fit, they win the Premier League at a canter; even without everyone fit, it’s hard to see anyone even coming remotely close.

The business in the summer, although a centre-back would probably have helped even before the onslaught of long-term injuries, was impressive.

Thiago is a majestic footballer and it’s a shame we’ve been robbed of the chance to watch him in action more this season.

Diogo Jota, too, has been an inspired signing, and it’s a shame his progress has been halted.

Regardless of the setbacks, you will probably have the league wrapped up relatively early on again.

 

Looking ahead to Monday’s game, who do you fear most for the Reds?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, October 27, 2020: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Liverpool FC and FC Midtjylland at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Mohamed Salah. Liverpool are blessed with numerous attacking talents, but he is a footballing freak of nature.

His goalscoring output is scarcely believable, and even in spite of some regular instances in which his decision-making can go awry, he is a devastatingly good forward.

Ryan Bertrand has been a steady player for Saints in the past couple of seasons, but has hardly convinced with some of his recent displays.

He’s another who looks a little tired, but is going to need to be at his very best to even stand a chance of containing Salah’s movement.

It’s tough to see that happening.

 

Where do you see the key battles taking place?

NEWCASTLE-UPON-TYNE, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 30, 2020: Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara during the FA Premier League match between Newcastle United FC and Liverpool FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I think Salah will give Bertrand a really hard time, but there are lots of areas that Saints will need to control.

The midfield battle will be interesting, as the double pivot of Romeu and Ward-Prowse is extremely strong, but Liverpool have the players to cope.

Thiago looks like he’s back in contention, so limiting his influence will be absolutely necessary.

Ings could cause you a few problems if he can regain his match sharpness, while Adams is excellent at dragging defenders out of space.

Perhaps exploiting the depleted central defence is the best, albeit slim, chance Saints have, particularly if Nat Phillips plays.

That might be the only weak link.

 

Finally, hit us with your prediction…

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 16, 2020: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp celebrates at the final whistle during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

It would be incredibly satisfying to see Southampton finally beat Liverpool again, but I don’t think that time will come on Monday night.

I think it will be a 2-0 away win – with Vestergaard out, it’s tough to see how we contain the attacking threat you pose, even if our defensive displays have been reasonably pleasing of late.

Stranger things have happened, but I just can’t quite see us getting anything here.

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