LONDON: The harmony — or lack of it — in Liverpool's squad will fall under the microscope on Sunday when Brendan Rodgers's side visit Southampton in a clash of Champions League qualification hopefuls.
Liverpool's 1-0 win over Besiktas in the Europa League on Thursday was overshadowed by an incident in the build-up to the hosts' late winner when substitute Mario Balotelli snatched the ball from stand-in captain Jordan Henderson before scoring the penalty that settled the game.
Regular captain Steven Gerrard, analysing the first-leg match for ITV as he convalesces following a hamstring injury, said Balotelli's behaviour had been "disrespectful" to Henderson.
But Henderson and Balotelli downplayed the altercation after the game — the former in a television interview; the latter, inevitably, on social media — and Rodgers said he would make sure the matter was put to bed.
"That is my job to manage that. It is what I do behind the scenes every day," said the Liverpool manager. "You see from the way the team has been playing recently the respect and commitment they show for each other. The only thing I would say on it is I don't like the etiquette. You don't like to see four or five players around a football looking to take it.”
While the incident caused Liverpool embarrassment, there is no denying that they have returned to something approaching their best following a run of one defeat in 17 matches.
The burst of form has taken Rodgers's side to within sight of the Premier League's Champions League qualifying places, where Southampton currently occupy the fourth and final berth.
With Liverpool four points back, victory for the visitors on Sunday would fuel belief for players and supporters alike that a testing season could yet end with a return to Europe's premier club competition.
Spurs ready for defining period, says Lloris
Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris says the visit of West Ham United to White Hart Lane on Sunday marks a crucial stage in Tottenham Hotspur's bid to claim a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Mauricio Pochettino's side head into the latest round of matches in sixth spot, three points behind fourth-placed Southampton, after undoing their good work in beating Arsenal by slumping to a narrow defeat at Liverpool.
With so many sides still in the mix for the top four, consistency will be key to Spurs' hopes of clinching a place in next season's Champions League.
And while Lloris insists Pochettino's team are in good form, the French goalkeeper knows they must claim three points against West Ham if they are to revive their challenge after the disappointment of losing to Mario Balotelli's late winner at Anfield.
"We were a bit frustrated after the Liverpool match because I think we deserved a minimum of one point, but that's football and we lost it. But we want to bounce back and get three points against West Ham," said Lloris.
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