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 By Chris Rann

Saints set to meet old friends

Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring the winner for Southampton at Liverpool last season -- but he will be hoping to keep Saints out this time around.

For a long period last season Southampton were the only visiting team to taste success at Liverpool. The new-look Saints side will be hoping to achieve more of the same when the new Premier League season kicks off this weekend, but it's difficult to predict the outcome this time around given the raft of changes that have occurred on both sides.

Dejan Lovren scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory at Anfield last season but he, along with Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana, have since moved to Brendan Rodgers' side. It has been a desperately difficult summer for new Southampton manager Ronald Koeman, who has seen the club's top players leave for Liverpool and beyond.

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So far, six first-team regulars have left Southampton, with five players coming in as well as the new coaching setup under Koeman. Elsewhere, Romania international Florin Gardos and Hull City striker Shane Long are expected to join soon, so the lineup Sunday will be a far cry from the one at Anfield almost a year ago.

Southampton have been the victims of their own success, with vultures picking at the side that performed so well last season. The match at Liverpool and seeing some old faces was always going to be tough. It's going to be difficult on the pitch but also off it, as supporters will need to show patience.

Koeman will need time to get his side playing the way he wants and it's undoubtedly going to be a bit of a bumpy road. In the same fixture last season, Mauricio Pochettino's side pressed Liverpool into submission and the 1-0 defeat actually flattered the hosts. Whether Koeman can replicate that at the first time of asking is a tough proposition to tackle.

Liverpool may have lost Luis Suarez but remain dangerous, with Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling the principal threats. Philippe Coutinho has had a fine preseason for them as well, so the visitors will have to be wary.


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Rodgers' men have pace to burn and if that's not enough, the script seems set for Lambert to have his say. It was difficult to begrudge the England international his dream move to the club he supported -- and the one who released him -- as a boy, but mutual admiration will be put aside at the weekend. It would be typical to see Lambert score on his full home debut for Liverpool against the club who has helped make him who he is, but players and times move on -- it's up to Koeman's side to make sure any intervention by Lambert is in vain.

From a Southampton point of view, the element of surprise could prove crucial; the likes of Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic were prolific in the Eredivisie but were little known in England before arriving at St. Mary's.

The signing of Long could be important too; the Irishman is a constant nuisance to defenders and Southampton fans will remember him frustrating a certain Croatian centre half when he played at St. Mary's last season. Lovren beware.

If Koeman's new era can start with a positive result at Anfield it will make for a brilliant start but if not, the campaign can truly get up and running at home to West Brom.


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