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Smith: Strikers must step up

Burnley 12 hours ago
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 By Steven Kelly
Aug 15, 2014

Liverpool looking to begin brightly

The ESPN FC panel preview the upcoming Premier League season and note what they're looking forward to.

Liverpool's defeat in this corresponding fixture last season may have surprised many but there is something about the visit of any Southampton side that always keeps an older fan on his toes.

For a club that has usually been regarded as a mid-table team in the top flight, one that has rarely challenged at the top apart from a very brief period in the '80s, the Saints have had more than their share of points at Anfield and if they do leave defeated it's rarely by much.

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Who knows what will happen this season, though? It's possible that this fixture will feature more personnel changes than any other game in Premier League history. Both squads have seen drastic changes and Brendan Rodgers will surely know better than to repeat last year's abysmal selection of all four centre halves in his backline.

If the visitors' Fraser Forster goes straight into goal to replace Artur Boruc there's another alteration. Liverpool's differences will come primarily from the sale of Luis Suarez, a figure who will still haunt this particular game. The 1-0 home defeat against Sunday's opponents last season was the last of his 10-game ban for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic and although his teammates had handled the other nine fixtures fairly well without him, the manner of their defeat in the 10th led everyone to breathe a small sigh of relief that the toothy terror was coming back.

There is a managerial change too as Ronald Koeman replaces Mauricio Pochettino in the south coast club's hotseat. It was the latter who initiated a tactical plan to outwit Liverpool on their home turf, albeit aided by the absence of Suarez and Rodgers' curious selections. There was a deliberate ploy to chase down Simon Mignolet whenever he was in nervous possession and the home side rarely got their passing game going all day. The visitors did not sit on their one-goal lead either, testing Mignolet several times in the second half.

The Argentinian coach will haunt this fixture too as he lies in wait for Liverpool again -- at Tottenham in two weeks' time. Manchester City are also just around the corner, so it is very important that Liverpool win this one in case stiffer challenges immediately ahead should prove to be insurmountable.

The only goal of the game nearly a year ago was scored at the Anfield Road end from a corner, a towering header by Dejan Lovren. Now he wears the Liverpool shirt and has already repeated that feat almost exactly in the Reds' last preseason match, scoring one of the goals in a 4-0 win against Borussia Dortmund that gives his new team confidence going into the new season. The fans were very pleased with the Croatian's overall contribution that day.

With home advantage against what is generally accepted to be weaker opposition with a new manager sure to be finding his feet in a new league, very few people will predict anything other than a convincing Liverpool win on Sunday. Three points will in some minds be already bagged and accounted for.

That's always a worry when football still has the capacity to shock. It's very important that Liverpool aren't this weekend's "Big Story." The Saints are rarely a walkover at Anfield. I can distantly recall a 5-0 and even a 7-1, but generally it's tight and Koeman will be fully aware of how even Arsenal were ripped to shreds early in the game in February.

Aside from the match and the result, there may well be sentimental reunions to savour. Liverpool's lack of a replacement striker for Suarez may well have put a brighter spotlight on Rickie Lambert, when in all honesty he was only expected to play a far less important role for the upcoming season. It was one of the feel-good stories of the summer, which hopefully won't deflect from the fact that there is a game to play and points to win.

PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEWS

As we count down to kickoff on Aug. 16, ESPN FC previews all 20 teams in this season's competition. Can Burnley, QPR and Leicester stay up? Will the new signings of Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa and Adam Lallana help usurp Man City's crown? Will Manchester United get back on track under Louis van Gaal?

It would appear that Adam Lallana isn't as badly injured as first thought but it will still be too soon to risk him and besides, the performance against Dortmund was so good it will be a major surprise if the team alters. Even newly purchased left back Alberto Moreno probably won't make it.

With Liverpool's next two fixtures being very tough indeed, a good start is vital. Pochettino will make sure Spurs aren't as shambolic as they were in both games last season -- a 9-0 aggregate score -- and City are of course the champions (he says through gritted teeth).

It is important to remember Southampton's last visit to Anfield and take absolutely nothing for granted. They have admittedly resembled a fire sale all summer and though Liverpool have benefitted to the tune of three new players there is still sympathy in this part of the world for how they have seemingly been picked clean. Such is the gloom surrounding them that they are even being tipped for relegation in some quarters.

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That's football, though. Liverpool didn't want to lose Suarez either but they have been financially compensated and put that money towards new signings. The best sides stay in contention no matter who they lose and what troubles befall them.

Both sets of fans will be checking to see if their respective windfalls have been spent wisely. Although it will be far too early in the season to pass judgement, football is a game very much dependent upon confidence and momentum.

It would not be wise to lose a sliver of both so soon.

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