There is little confidence that Southampton can get anything against Liverpool on Tuesday night, as we get the lowdown on Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side.
The Reds beat Chelsea on penalties in the FA Cup final on Saturday afternoon, as this side continues to earn legendary status.
Next up is Tuesday’s trip to St Mary’s, and with Man City slipping up with a 2-2 draw at West Ham on Sunday, it is a must-win clash with the title race still alive.
Ahead of the game, TIA’s Henry Jackson spoke to Southampton fan and writer Luke Osman (@lukeosman_) to hear about his side’s season, Tuesday’s clash and more.
How would you assess Southampton’s season overall?
Until March 5, it was going pretty swimmingly. Southampton were in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and sat comfortably in ninth place.
Fast-forward a few months and it’s quite possible that they finish 17th.
It’s been a tale of inconsistency and dismal collapses in the second half of the season, and nobody is pleased about it.
Most fans would have taken survival if it was offered to them at the beginning of the campaign, but the demise since March has been alarming.
Hasenhuttl’s failure to arrest the decline has been of equal concern.
Is Hasenhuttl still the right man for the job?
I think it’s hard to see a better manager than Hasenhuttl coming to St Mary’s, but there also appears to be that perennially feared intangible of the players no longer ‘responding’ to him.
It’s two years in a row now that safety has been all but secured midway through the season, only for Saints to rapidly tumble down the table.
Hasenhuttl’s done more good than harm since arriving in 2018, but the fanbase is incredibly split in their opinion of him.
It got pretty toxic in the away end at Brentford, with Saints 3-0 down to a team they thumped 4-1 earlier in the season, and it might get worse yet before the season’s over.
Who have been your three best players this season?
James Ward-Prowse and Kyle Walker-Peters have been the two standouts.
Ward-Prowse has been typically excellent, digging Saints out of sticky situations with some outstanding efforts, while Walker-Peters has been Southampton’s most consistently impressive performer.
As for the third-best, you could probably pick a name out of a hat, but I’ll say Oriol Romeu.
Although he hasn’t been too effective in the second half of the season, he remains an integral cog in Hasenhuttl’s system.
Which individuals have struggled?
Theo Walcott and Moussa Djenepo have had pretty torrid campaigns, but only when they’ve played.
They’ve been out of favour for much of the season.
Alex McCarthy was very poor, resulting in Fraser Forster’s return to the lineup, but I would say Jan Bednarek has been most disappointing.
He had a substandard season last time out and I think a lot of people expected him to bounce back this time around.
Instead, he has continued in a similar vein, and it feels as though he’s making a decisive error in each game.
It’s bizarre that Hasenhuttl has retained faith in him throughout.
Looking ahead to Tuesday, how highly do you rate this Reds side?
It’s certainly up there with the best I’ve seen.
Even when performances have looked a little more leggy, and without the inspiration of Mohamed Salah that had perhaps been present with more regularity in the first half of the season, Liverpool grind out results.
It’s a blessing and a curse that this team co-exists with Man City because they’re both worthy champions.
It makes for brilliant viewing as a neutral but a fearsome prospect when the time comes to face these teams – Tuesday is no different!
Did you envisage Van Dijk and Mane having this impact at Anfield?
I was pretty certain Virgil van Dijk would emerge as the world’s best defender when he was at Southampton.
Jurgen Klopp has undoubtedly supported his development, but I felt Van Dijk was world class in 2016, even though he wasn’t playing at the highest level.
He’s a generational player, and for Liverpool, he’s been an era-defining signing.
As for Sadio Mane, I’ve been somewhat surprised by his success, such was his inconsistency at St Mary’s.
When he was on form, he was scintillating, but he was nowhere near as good as he currently is. He’s so well-rounded now and Klopp deserves enormous credit for that.
Mane is brilliant, and his resurgence has been great to see this season. I think a substantial section of Southampton supporters remains quite fond of him.
Where do you see the key battles taking place?
Forster against the entire Liverpool team – he’s going to be busy!
Saints look as fragile as they have ever done at the moment.
Brentford should have put five past them last Saturday and I would be surprised if we keep Liverpool at bay, even if they do put 11 men behind the ball.
Whoever plays up front will likely have a field day, given how out of form Bednarek and Mohammed Salisu are at the moment.
Finally, what’s your prediction?
Saints just look hapless at both ends at the moment and Liverpool won’t let anyone get away with that.
I would be pretty surprised if the visitors score fewer than three goals here and I’m expecting it to get a little ugly, especially if Klopp decides that there’s still value in racking up the goals in the unlikely event that City can be caught.
I’m going for 5-0 Liverpool if it’s a full-strength team.