By Ed Elliot, PA
Southampton boss Ralph Hasenhuttl believes Liverpool have rediscovered the “identity” which brought their first top-flight title in 30 years.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were deserved Premier League champions in the 2019-20 campaign but standards dipped significantly last term as they finished 17 points adrift of table-topping Manchester City.
Hasenhuttl was left in tears on the touchline back in January after masterminding Saints’ shock 1-0 victory over the Reds at St Mary’s.
The Austrian takes his team to Anfield on Saturday afternoon and feels the free-scoring hosts – who have hit a league-high 35 goals this season – are a far more dangerous proposition than earlier this year.
“It is always a pleasure for to play against a team of Jurgen and it is always one of the biggest challenges you can imagine in football, it is always super tough,” said Hasenhuttl.
“When you see Liverpool in the moment, they’re coming back to their best shape, their biggest strength. It seems to me that they are playing again like in the season when they became champions.
“Last season it seems to me – we are discussing about a high level still – they haven’t been that hungry against the ball, not that quick in their transition, not that quick in their play like they are doing again this season.
“I don’t know what they changed in the summer but it seems they have found their identity back and it makes it very difficult to take something against such a side.
“But it is not impossible – I’ve seen Brighton take a point after being two down (a 2-2 draw on October 30) but 99 out of 100 games, if you’re 2-0 down (away to Liverpool) you lose this game.”
Hasenhuttl has received a major injury boost ahead of the trip to Merseyside, with defender Jack Stephens back in training following more than two months out with a knee issue.
Stephens is not expected to be rushed back into first-team action, partly due to rustiness but also because of strong competition for places.
“He is back training, the first week in a long time and this is good for him, good for us,” said Hasenhuttl.
“If he is ready for the weekend, I’m not sure. In the moment, it’s quite tough to come in the 18, we have a lot of alternatives in the squad at the moment.
“Normally I try to give them a little bit longer on the (training) pitch to come back. Give him time, there’s no reason to hurry.”
Midfielder Stuart Armstrong remains out due to a calf issue but Nathan Redmond returns to contention having missed last weekend’s 2-1 loss at Norwich due to the birth of a child, while Moussa Djenepo is also available following a knock.