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THE INSIDE TRACK: Liverpool

Liverpool

Liverpool's Roberto Firmino (centre) celebrates with Emre Can and Jordan Henderson

Image by: Laurence Griffiths/Getty

PUBLISHED

18:00 17th March 2016

Liverpool Echo sports writer Chris Beesley gives us the expert opinion on Southampton's next opponents, Liverpool.

How would you sum up how things have gone since Jürgen Klopp has been in charge?

After the initial rush of euphoria that greeted Jürgen Klopp's appointment – there was real giddiness in what was seen as a genuine coup in snaring Europe's most sought-after out-of-work manager and one of the game's great characters – a more grounded realisation set in that this was the same set of players who had been failing under Brendan Rodgers. For a long time, overall results were not much better than under the previous regime, but the feeling is that once Klopp brings in some more of his type of players next season that things will start to take off. Given that, there have been some definite shoots of recovery in recent weeks with an upturn in form.

What has the recent form been like and how is the confidence in the team?

Although losing the Capital One Cup final on penalties to Manchester City was obviously a crushing blow, the team has responded well to that disappointment and bounced back in impressive fashion. City were despatched 3-0 at Anfield just three days after the final in what was the most comprehensive home display of the season, a 10-man Liverpool came from behind to defeat bogey side Crystal Palace 2-1 with a last-gasp penalty from this season's high-price whipping boy Christian Benteke and then, of course, a lacklustre and disjointed Manchester United were beaten 2-0 in the first ever Europa League encounter between English football's two most successful clubs. It could have been much worse for United, too, if it hadn't had been for David De Gea's impressive display in goal.

How would you describe Liverpool's current style of play?

From the start, Klopp has tried to implement the famous up-tempo 'Gegenpressing' tactic that he used at Borussia Dortmund of hounding the opposition and immediately trying to get the ball back, as opposed to the slower, passing style favoured by Rodgers. Again, it will take time, and certain personnel need to change, but the players have generally embraced the new philosophy. They still haven't found a solution that brings the best out of Benteke, though. At £32.5million he already looks like yet another costly Kop flop, but could still do a fine job for another side. 

Who are the side's most important players right now?

Roberto Firmino is the man of the moment. A £29million capture from Hoffenheim last summer, big things were expected of him from the start, but while you could always see that he was a class act, he struggled with the tempo of the English games in his early months. He's found his rhythm now and is top scorer with nine goals, but it's interesting that all of them have been scored when Daniel Sturridge has been off the pitch. Admittedly, Sturridge has been off the pitch a lot, but it suggests that the Brazilian has more space to express himself when he's the main striker. Also worth mentioning is the recent blossoming of former Southampton captain Adam Lallana. Again, a substantial £25million price tag ensured there was pressure to deliver, but for a long time the England midfielder flattered to deceive. Of late, though, he looks like the penny might finally have dropped when it comes to performing for a big club and hopes remain high that Klopp can squeeze the best out of him.

Has the team been coping well with the demands of their European campaign on top of the Premier League?

The last two rounds haven't been followed up by Premier League fixtures the following weekend, but the whole Thursday-Sunday 'dilemma' seems to be more in people's heads. It's no different than Wednesday-Saturday, or indeed Saturday-Tuesday. From the start, Klopp has generally selected a strong side for Europa League matches, unlike Rodgers who would often name weakened teams and picked a scratch side against Besiktas last season. The policy has been rewarded so far and, while it's a mammoth competition, the Europa League a far more prestigious competition than many in England would seemingly given it credit for and arguably represents Liverpool's best chance of getting back in the Champions League. The chaotic nature of this season's Premier League means that a late push for the top four can't be completely ruled out, but it remains a long shot.

What sort of a game do you expect on Sunday?

I'm not expecting another 6-1, but I think that while Southampton will be gunning for revenge on the back of that result, it could also have caused them significant damage psychologically when it comes to facing Liverpool. They'll be given a chance because for Liverpool it will be something of 'After the Lord Mayor's Show' with the game coming on the back of what will have been a draining encounter at Old Trafford, but if the Reds can hang on to progress they'll be going into the game on a high. They've actually been better away from home that at Anfield on many occasions this season, so I'll go for a 2-0 win for Liverpool.

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