Southampton fans aren't exactly fond of Liverpool these days. Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Sir Rickie Lambert all defected to the red side of Merseyside in the summer. At the time, Liverpool were accused of "poaching" Southampton's players. In hindsight, it looks like they did us Saints a favour.
St. Mary's Musings: What were your season expectations before it started and how have they changed since?
Chuck Dozie: It was difficult to sustain what Liverpool achieved last season, simply because of the quality in Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez in attack. Liverpool could make a challenge last season based on the combination of a tactical system that maximised every attacking facet of Brendan Rodgers' first-choice players, a lack of European football or lengthy domestic cup campaign, the reignited passion of the fans that made Anfield a cauldron, and the cup-tie approach adopted in the last 12 or 13 league games.
This season, I would have been pleased with retaining Liverpool's newly-found Champions League status along with winning a trophy. I still believe that is possible with Liverpool fighting on three fronts, but the winning the Europa League or finishing in the top four is not going to be an easy task at all. The expectations remain the same, but they can be almost obliterated by a run of one or two poor results. I'm not sure such hopes are sustainable.
SMM: What did you make of Southampton's summer exodus?
CD: Everyone wondered what on earth was going on at Southampton! The manager left, key players left, and apparently Jay Rodriguez would have gone if he wasn't injured. Morgan Schneiderlin wanted to go but couldn't. The role of Les Reed was being questioned along with the ownership. I felt sorry for the fans as Southampton are traditionally known as a decent club with a good reputation for young talent. I wasn't sure that the whole story behind the scenes was revealed, but that's the point I suppose.
I didn't think Southampton would be able to finish in the top ten after such a drastic turnover of players, something I'm usually not a fan of in terms of building immediate success. It must have been a troubling and worrying time to be a Southampton fan, but nobody expected such a strong season following that difficult summer.
SMM: Many Saints fans are unhappy at the way Lallana and Lovren left the club: what do you think of the way they moved and how they've played this season?
CD: With Dejan Lovren, I thought he was completely unprofessional and didn't appreciate how he looked for his move. He said that his "head already was at Liverpool" and a lot of fans are wondering about its whereabouts even now. £20 million is a lot for a defender, and Lovren is the sixth most expensive Premier League defender of all time. He has been a disaster and should be thankful that the English media's obsession with Mario Balotelli has diverted eyes from what has been an extremely unsuccessful signing so far. His positional sense, decision-making, and capacity for errors is alarming. He's probably Liverpool's fifth-choice centre back even though he's the club's joint-fifth expensive signing of all time. There's still time but Mario Balotelli has started to show something in the past few games, so Lovren is out on his own as the worst signing by some distance.
Adam Lallana is a quality player. He's lovely to watch, two-footed, intelligent with his approach play, and works hard. He hasn't always been fit and found some consistency in December before he got injured. He's become a trusted first-team/squad player in a system that suits him when he's deployed in attacking midfield. I think Southampton got an excellent fee from Liverpool for Lallana but maybe were looking for more. It seemed to be a case of Lallana thinking that an opportunity was there for him after all the years he had given the Saints as captain, player, and academy product. Were his calls being answered? Was he being messed around? We'll never know. He seems to regret it, judging by comments in the press, and won't be getting a warm reception after the way he left. There's more to come from him for Liverpool, but some fans are stuck on the fee spent to bring him in.
SMM: It's sad for Saints fans to see Rickie Lambert rotting on the bench. Do you think it was a mistake to sign him?
CD: I'm sure it is Jake! Rickie Lambert was a productive player for Southampton and contributed in goals as well as assists. For £4 million, it wasn't a bad deal. Again, it looks like a decent deal for the Saints now, but fans were certainly unhappy about it. The romance of returning back home has gone for the fans, and all that matters is the productivity in the final third. Aston Villa's offer in the January transfer window means that there's still value in the market for him. Even if he moves on in the summer, the club, the manager, and Rickie tried. He was bought to be a reserve and a different option; Rickie Lambert is certainly that.
SMM: Brendan Rodgers made some disparaging comments about Southampton prior to the first game of the season. He's not a popular figure on the south coast: is he still a popular figure on Merseyside?
CD: That's an interesting question. Brendan Rodgers has said a lot of things, and Spurs fans might want to ask him some questions. Brendan Rodgers is talented but is also stubborn. Some Liverpool fans haven't taken to him and maybe never will. He talks too much. He fancies himself. He's a snake oil salesman. The supporters are still behind him, but would they be without the dramatic improvement over the last couple of months? I'm not so sure after a such a miserable autumn. Liverpool are a mostly balanced side now with 3421 and the return of quality players. His stubbornness, aversion to rotation, and handling of Steven Gerrard remain issues, but nobody's perfect. He's doing well and has generally showed that he gets it right eventually in his time at the club to date. The fans are enjoying the football, hopes of a top four finish are still alive, and lengthier domestic cup runs have provided more variety of late.
SMM: If you could sell any of Liverpool's regularly-featured players, who would it be and why?
CD: He's playing well at the moment, but because of my personal tastes in centre backs, I would probably sell Martin Škrtel. He's been excellent as the central centre back in a back three where he can cover, make last ditch tackles, challenge in the air, and be unburdened with key decisions in possession. However, Škrtel is not the same in a back four and can make some maddening decisions. He's not a bad player, but he's 30 and also has a year left on his contract in the summer. The rest of the regulars are either younger, better, or more suited to different systems than the big Slovak defender.
SMM: Controversial topic: If you could sign any Saints player, who would it be and why?
CD: This isn't controversial at all! Liverpool fans have a long list of Southampton players they'd want to sign. The two that come to mind in terms of ability and positions of necessity are Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin. I've been a fan of Clyne for a while, but it would have to be Schneiderlin in midfield. He's around 18 months older than Victor Wanyama, so the Kenya international isn't that much of a younger option that he's perceived to be. Schneiderlin is clever, remains switched on, and is good in possession. He can do all the tackling, intercepting, and winning the ball in the air, but is much more than that. He's got a couple of goals in him too and would be an excellent midfield partner for Jordan Henderson. He'd also improve the midfield of all the top four rivals; Morgan Schneiderlin is that good.
SMM: Finally, what is your prediction for Sunday's game?
CD: I think we'll get a draw that keeps Liverpool fans with some hope of the top four. Brendan Rodgers made only one change to the side that won against Crystal Palace, and that was triggered by Lazar Marković's suspension. Jordon Ibe can't play in the FA Cup but Lazar Marković can. Lazar Marković got a four-game suspension in the Europa League but Jordon Ibe didn't. I'm not sure if that approach to rotation will help against a good side that's a direct rival for a top four spot. A draw it is.
Make sure you read my answers to the questions posed to me by Chuck at The Liverpool Offside here.