By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Liverpool’s bid for their first title since the creation of the Premier League continues on Friday at Southampton, whose St.Mary’s stadium is a familiar place for a number of Juergen Klopp’s side.
In recent years Liverpool have spent about 170 million pounds on signing players from the Saints, including key men Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane, both of whom are expected to start on Friday.
Liverpool raided Southampton heavily in the summer of 2014 when they brought in Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert.
The following year full-back Nathaniel Clyne, currently on loan at Bournemouth, went for 12.5 million pounds and then in 2016 Mane made the move for 34 million pounds. The biggest deal — after a bitter wrangle — was Van Dijk’s 75 million pound move last January.
While Van Dijk has transformed Liverpool’s defence, Mane’s 17 goals this season make him a real threat to the Saints, who are only five points above the relegation zone.
Southampton defender Ryan Bertrand, who played with Mane at the club, knows exactly what to expect from the speedy Senegalese forward.
“He isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. I am thoroughly looking forward to it,” said Bertrand.
“I’ve been really impressed with him, I think he has been their main player. I’m sure the other attackers have still produced some fantastic numbers in terms of goals, but I think he has been the one that shines.”
Liverpool trail league leaders Manchester City by a point, with Pep Guardiola’s side in FA Cup semi-final action against Brighton on Saturday.
Bertrand says that, with the stakes high for both clubs, Friday’s clash should be a pulsating encounter.
“It will be a big game. They are fighting to create history and to win the Premier League and we still need the points, so we will also be fighting,” he said.
“The better teams are more clinical, more difficult and technically gifted, but at the same time, with that comes more opportunity where they might leave more gaps defensively. You have to take your chances.”
The Saints will also have an eye on results elsewhere in the battle against the drop.
Huddersfield Town and Fulham are already relegated, with Cardiff City occupying the final relegation slot in 18th place, five points behind Southampton, Burnley and Brighton.
Though Cardiff do not play this weekend, Burnley visit mid-table Bournemouth while Newcastle United are at Crystal Palace. Newcastle are seven points clear of Cardiff but yet to secure safety.
In the battle for Champions League qualification, meanwhile, fourth-placed Arsenal and fifth-placed Chelsea are level on 63 points.
Arsenal have a tricky trip to Everton on Sunday and Chelsea are at home to West Ham on Monday.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by David Goodman)