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Pochettino on Reds alert
Mauricio Pochettino will be hoping Saints’ survival hopes are not dented by one of his former players at the weekend.
Liverpool’s visit to St Mary’s on Saturday will see the Brazilian winger, Philippe Coutinho, line-up against his old boss.
The 20-year-old played under Pochettino at Espanyol last season, during a loan spell from Inter Milan.
Coutinho is now at Liverpool, after an £8.5m move to Anfield from the Italian side in January, while Pochettino has landed in Southampton.
The possibility had existed that both men could have ended up at St Mary’s, with Saints also having been interested in signing the player during the last transfer window.
But, rather than helping the club’s bid for survival, Coutinho could instead now harm it.
With just one point from their last three matches, Pochettino’s side are still very much embroiled in the relegation fight.
They will go into the weekend with a four-point cushion over the bottom three, although Wigan, in 18th place, now have a game in hand on them.
Defeat to a resurgent Liverpool could push Saints even closer to the drop zone.
Coutinho’s arrival at Anfield has certainly coincided with an impressive upturn in fortunes for the Merseyside club.
The skilled attacking player has started in Liverpool’s last three games, which have all ended in victory and have yielded 12 goals for Brendan Rodgers’ team.
That has sparked hope of the Reds securing a European spot that, just a few weeks ago, had looked unlikely.
Liverpool and Saints legend Jimmy Case has watched Coutinho closely since his arrival from Inter and has been impressed with what he has seen so far.
“He’s feeling his way in, but you can see he’s got quite a bit of skill there,” he said.
“His fitness levels are probably not at their best at the moment, and he does not have a massive physique.
“But he is very gifted technically. Some of the balls he played through on Sunday (in the 3-2 win against Tottenham), some of them with the outside of his foot, were a joy to watch.
“He does look a decent player.”
Pochettino is well aware of the ability of his fellow South American, who opened his goal account for Liverpool in the 5-0 win against Swansea last month.
Coutinho joined Espanyol in January 2012 and scored five goals in 16 appearances to help ensure the Barcelona-based team, then coached by Pochettino, survived in La Liga.
He was heavily linked with a move to St Mary’s in January, with Saints’ Argentinean boss confirming after he took over the side that there had been a “small chance” of signing the youngster.
Liverpool always represented the most likely destination, however, and Pochettino insisted at the time that he wasn’t upset at Saints missing out on him.
“I am not frustrated about not being able to sign him,” he said in his initial press conference as the club’s manager. “I knew there was a small chance he would come here, but overall I have not had much time to consider new signings.”
Pochettino added: “We all know who Coutinho is, and that he is a quality player.”