Liverpool will kickstart the busiest period of their season with no international breaks scheduled until March when they take on Southampton at Anfield on Saturday.
The Reds went into the latest set of international fixtures having won their last three matches and know that another win on Saturday would push them nearer to the summit of the Premier League table.
Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino will return to Anfield again following his stint at Anfield both as a player and as a coach under Rafa Benitez.
To get an opposing view of this fixture we spoke to ‘long-suffering Southampton fan (he told us to call him that!)’ and the Press Association’s Chief Football Writer Simon Peach.
How would you assess Southampton’s season so far? Are the majority of Saints fans happy with the teams progress this season?
Frustrating would best sum up the start to the season – and, in fact, most of 2017. The words ‘happy’ and ‘progress’ are not something Saints fans can associate with right now as things have hardly improved from the boring football under Claude Puel.
Just to underline that point, the 1-0 loss to Burnley before the international break means Southampton have failed to score in nine of their last 12 Premier League home games.
What have you made of Mauricio Pellegrino since he arrived at the club? Can you see him taking the club forward in the long-term?
Initial enthusiasm has quickly dissipated, although I am still prepared to give Pellegrino the benefit of the doubt. I spent some time with him at the club’s training ground over the international break and found him an engaging, enthusiastic guy. Sadly, so far speaking a good game has not translated into producing one.
What sort of game are you expecting on Saturday?
Difficult to say. I feel like it will click into gear eventually for Southampton – they are fourth best in the league for completed passes and chances created – but I am not expecting Liverpool to fold easily.
What have you made of Liverpool this season and do you think they’re on the up under Jürgen Klopp?
Well, it has been a case from the sublime to the ridiculous – sometimes in the same match. Liverpool should be on the up but the defence has yet to match the attack.
Virgil Van Dijk is of course a talking point in the build up to this fixture. What did you make of the way things panned out in the summer and do you think Southampton did the right thing keeping hold of him?
It was pretty damn ugly. Virgil’s desire to move onto a bigger club is understandable, but just a season on from signing a new and improved six-year deal his attempts to force a move stuck in the craw.
Southampton fans are not stupid and well used to being pilfered by Liverpool, but the club reached a point where they needed to make a stand. Saints had the money to keep firm – as well as the morale upper hand after Liverpool’s messy alleged approach – so even though it got ugly and they eventually may not make the same amount of money, I think it was a worthwhile stance.
💭🙏 It's looking more and more likely that Liverpool will be back in for Virgil Van Dijk in January. https://t.co/9rZzMZlzDZ
— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) November 17, 2017
How highly do you rate Van Dijk? Do you think he’s the right sort of centre-back for Liverpool?
I have seen few better centre-backs at Southampton and would put him on par with Toby Alderweireld. He is brave and intelligent on the ball, good in the air and tackles well, so that should tick boxes for most big clubs.
Do you think Van Dijk will eventually get a move to Liverpool and, if so, do you think that could happen in January?
A senior figure at one big club told me January is an opportunistic market, so naturally some clubs will benefit from the desperation of others.
Van Dijk has not been pulling up any trees since his return and a boatload of cash that follows the distinct whiff of desperation from Anfield could tempt Southampton if they feel they have made their point and have the options to kick on.
That said, after digging their heels in over the summer it would seem early to relent.
Which Southampton player/players do you think Liverpool need to look out for in this one?
Are you one of the Liverpool scouts?! Have you not had enough of Southampton’s players?! In all seriousness, Oriol Romeu may not fit the bill in terms of a star to watch but he often provides an assured presence, deservedly winning the club’s player of the year last season.
Ryan Bertrand and Cedric Soares are excellent full-backs, while Mario Lemina is an outstanding midfielder. The main issues are the form of Fraser Forster and Southampton’s toothless attack.
Which Liverpool player/players have you been most impressed with this season?
Mo Salah has been a breath of fresh air. I was fortunate to cover a number of his games at Basel and was surprised when it did not work out at Chelsea. He seems to be better for his time at Roma and has hit the ground running with Liverpool.
I don’t think you necessarily needed another attacking player, but he was good value in this market and a fine acquisition.
Your score prediction for Saturday?
I am going 2-0 to Liverpool because I am a pessimist – and Saints are bound to concede after keeping four clean sheets against you last season. A repeat of the EFL Cup semi-final at Anfield would not go amiss, mind…