By Sam Holden
Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren left Southampton hoping for bigger things at Liverpool but when they return to their former club in the Premier League on Sunday they will look enviously at their former team mates.
Southampton are fourth in table, occupying the final Champions League qualification spot, while Liverpool have endured an indifferent season and lie seventh, four points adrift of Ronald Koeman’s side.
After six months and 25 games, the weekend brings the reverse fixtures of the first matches of the campaign.
When Koeman lost his first competitive game in charge of Southampton 2-1 at Anfield it looked as though the season might unfold as most pundits had predicted.
Liverpool were flying high after finishing runners-up the previous season and the south-coast club looked destined to struggle after an exodus of leading players and the loss of manager Mauricio Pochettino.
But Southampton have defied the doom-mongers, coping admirably with the loss of Lallana, Lambert and Lovren to Liverpool as well as Luke Shaw to Manchester United and Calum Chambers to Arsenal.
Serbia defender Lovren has not been missed as the Saints boast the tightest defence in the league, while Koeman’s attack has outscored Liverpool’s expensively-assembled forward line.
Brendan Rodgers’s side have struggled to recapture their scintillating form of last season but have regained a bit of swagger recently, unbeaten in nine league games ahead of the trip to St Mary’s.
Arsenal, who are one point behind Southampton in fifth, visit London rivals Crystal Palace on Saturday, while sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur host another capital derby when West Ham United visit White Hart Lane on Sunday.
Leaders Chelsea held on for a 1-1 draw at Paris St Germain in their Champions League last-16 first-leg tie on Tuesday and will hope for an easier ride at home to second-bottom Burnley.
Champions Manchester City, trailing Jose Mourinho’s team by seven points in second, host Newcastle United.
Louis Van Gaal tasted defeat in the first competitive game of his managerial reign at Manchester United and will want to avenge the Old Trafford loss when his third-placed team go to Swansea City on Saturday.
Tim Sherwood’s first league game as Aston Villa manager is at home to Stoke City.