LIVERPOOL’S last visit to Southampton was in 2005. Back then Harry Redknapp was their manager and he even gave his lad, ex-Red Jamie, a game that day. Liverpool lost 2-0 and Peter Crouch got their second.
That was the season that ended with a night in Istanbul for Liverpool and relegation for Southampton. The south coast side had not long since moved into St Mary’s after leaving The Dell and it hadn’t been a ground Liverpool enjoyed going to – in four visits they’d only won once and had been on the wrong end of three 2-0 scorelines.
That last visit came at a time of huge pressure for Rafa Benítez, in his first season as Reds boss. A league defeat at home to the enemy from down the East Lancs had been followed by the infamous FA Cup exit at lowly Burnley with the Spaniard being told he didn’t understand how important the domestic cups were to the supporters. There’s an argument that some still don’t understand their importance but it’s an argument for another day.
This was also Carragher’s first season as a regular centre-back but injuries meant he had to play at right-back – paving the way for a rare appearance for Pellegrino alongside Hyypia. Alonso was also injured but with Gerrard and Hamman available midfield was the least of Benítez’s worries. Up front he had Morientes and Baros and perhaps it’s no surprise that he’d be making a bid for Crouch that summer.
Despite the win Southampton remained in the relegation zone and ended the season there. Liverpool travelled back north in what was seen as a disappointing fifth place in the table, the position they ended the season in, only qualifying for the following season’s Champions League by actually winning that big-eared cup themselves.
Today’s Southampton side are out of the relegation places but only just and will be looking for an upset this afternoon. They managed one last month, beating current champions Manchester City 3-1, but only managed one point from their next three games.
For Liverpool the rest of the season is about picking up as many points as possible and hoping other sides slip up. Talk of a top four finish has started again but Liverpool would do well to ignore the league table and just keep picking up points the way they have in recent matches. Four wins and 15 goals means the Reds go into this match on top form but in the background there still remains the vulnerability at the back that has seen too many points dropped.
If Everton manage to bounce back from their FA Cup exit last weekend the Reds could drop a place without playing, Liverpool starting the day a place above them on goal difference and having played a game more.
The FA Cup draw means it’s almost certainly going to need a top five finish to get any kind of place in Europe next season and even for that the Reds are going to have to rely on the slip-ups of others.
Liverpool can’t do anything about what the other sides do but they can certainly make sure they’ve got the points in the bag should enough of those slip-ups happen.
For this season at least, fifth would be a good ending to a new manager’s first term in charge – and a platform to build on for next season, when Europa League qualification should be the bare minimum.