Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Steven Davis warns Southampton are on red alert for Liverpool test

Smooth progress: Steven Davis has been in awesome form for Southampton

Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis has declared that he is playing his best ever football in the Premier League.

The Southampton midfielder will need to keep that form up tomorrow when his team play host to a rampant Liverpool side, managed of course by fellow County Antrim man Brendan Rodgers.

The Reds are the top scorers in the Premier League with 70 goals, but the Saints will relish the challenge of stopping them, knowing they have done it already this season in October when Davis played a key role in Southampton's 1-0 victory at Anfield.

That remains the only time Liverpool have failed to net at home in this campaign.

Mauricio Pochettino's side defeated the Merseysiders 3-1 at St Mary's last season, so are chasing three victories in a row against Steven Gerrard and co as well as being determined to finish an impressive season on a high.

There has been much praise heaped on England World Cup hopefuls Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Ricky Lambert, but the Northern Ireland ace has also been an influential figure for Southampton, who have maintained a top 10 position and not once been in relegation trouble, as was the case last term.

When Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins all of 13 months ago, there were fears that Davis would be sidelined but the 29-year-old, who has won 65 caps, has shown the Argentine what every Northern Ireland supporter believes... that he is a class act capable of linking up play, carving out chances and scoring goals.

He has played 23 Premier League matches so far this season and is now approaching 400 club games, having made his first team debut with Aston Villa in 2004 before going on to play for Fulham and Rangers.

Davis believes Pochettino has helped improve his game and feels he is playing better than ever.

"I think the way the manager sets up the team brings out the best in me and the rest of the side," said the midfielder.

"We all understand each other's games and the way we push the full-backs on gives us a lot of width and attacking threat.

"That allows me to get on the ball a little bit deeper at times and try and start attacks from there.

"There's also freedom to find pockets of space and I feel that's something I'm quite good at. I believe there's more to come from myself and the team and we aim to show that."

Davis added: "At the start of this season I had to bide my time and when I got my opportunity, I just tried to show the best of my ability. I feel I am doing that and achieving a good level of consistency now."

While Davis has club matters on his mind, next week he hopes to lead his country to victory in a friendly in Cyprus.

On the trip he'll act as mentor to rookie Ben Reeves, who he recommended to Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, having worked with him at Southampton before the youngster moved to MK Dons in the summer.

Davis is "excited" by the prospect of the 2016 European Championship qualifying group and games to come against Greece, Hungary, Romania, Finland and the Faroe Islands.

Carnlough native Rodgers (pictured) will be cheering on Davis, a player he admires, then but not tomorrow night with the Reds having the chance to move into third place in the Premier League should they win because Manchester City are in League Cup final action this weekend.

If Arsenal lose at Stoke, Liverpool could go second.

"It'll be a difficult game, but we have great belief and confidence and will go into the match aiming to get a positive result," said Rodgers, who stated centre back Daniel Agger, substituted during Sunday's 4-3 win over Swansea, will play.

Meanwhile a special charity match to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster will be played at Anfield in April between Kenny Dalglish's 'home' team, which will include Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and Jamie Carragher, and an International XI managed by Gerard Houllier, featuring Jan Molby, Dietmar Hamann and Luis Garcia.

The 'Celebration of the 96', taking place on Easter Monday, will honour the memory of the 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives at the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield on April 15, 1989.

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