Can Southampton’s ‘Alpine Klopp’ Puncture Liverpool’s Premier League Title Hopes?
Manchester City’s comfortable 2-0 victory over relegation-threatened Cardiff means that Liverpool must now beat Southampton at St Mary’s in order to regain top spot in what is proving to be the most riveting of Premier League title battles.
With just six games to go it’s City who have the narrowest of advantages - we’re talking one point - but Liverpool have the chance to hurl the pressure back in their rivals’ direction when they venture down to the south coast on Friday.
Let’s not forget that Liverpool have only suffered one defeat this season - to City - which is 13 less than 16th-placed Southampton whose grand total of eight wins is fewer than the number of victories the Reds have since Christmas (nine).
Furthermore, Liverpool have triumphed in the last three top-flight duels between the teams, while they've failed to concede a goal to the Saints in five undefeated league games spanning back three years.
However, there’s one crucial factor that could prove pivotal on Friday.
Step forward, Ralph Hasenhuttl.
The Austrian manager, otherwise known as the ‘Alpine Klopp’, has completely rejuvenated the previously stuttering Saints since his surprise arrival in December.
Southampton were an eye-sore under their former incumbent Mark Hughes who was eventually hurled onto the scrapheap after a thoroughly underwhelming and quite frankly painfully dull start to the season.
Hasenhuttl has given the revitalised south coast side a much needed identity with the club’s new high-pressing style resulting in notable scalps over Arsenal and Tottenham, and they head into the Liverpool clash with three wins from four games, while it's worth noting that only a handful of teams have accumulated more points in 2019.
In other words, Hasenhuttl could really throw a spanner in the works on Friday.
The affable manager, formerly of RB Leipzig, has previously drawn comparisons with Jurgen Klopp due to his preference for a high-octane, attacking approach to the beautiful game, hence the 'Alpine Klopp' tag - Klopp from the Alps.
“Klopp and I did our coaching badges together and we know each other very well,” said Hasenhuttl previously.
“I think we appreciate a similar philosophy on football – we want to play a high tempo game, we want our guys to sprint around, press well and these are elements which make the game livelier and varied and get people excited.”
Meanwhile, in his press conference ahead of the game, Klopp said (via the Evening Standard).
“We have a few things in common. Ralph is not German, he’s Austrian, but that’s close, and he worked a long time in Germany. There are a few things you can see, we all love good organisation, pressing, counter-press, quick transition. That’s nothing new, and you can see that."
There’s also added spice due to the fact that Liverpool have a number of former Saints stars in their ranks. We’re talking Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, and Dejan Lovren...wow.
However, given the remarkable resurgence and injection of confidence under Hasenhuttl the Saints will be brimming with confidence as they bid to conjure up a huge win which would not only boost their own prospects of survival, but potentially puncture Liverpool’s pursuit of that elusive first Premier League title.