SOUTHAMPTON, United Kingdom (AFP) - Brendan Rodgers believes Liverpool are a different proposition to the team beaten by Southampton earlier this season as the Reds prepare for a vital trip to St Mary's on Saturday.
Rodgers' side are just four points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea with 11 matches remaining, sparking hope at Anfield of a surprise title challenge.
With six wins and two draws, the fourth-placed Reds are unbeaten in six matches since the turn of the year and also have a six-point cushion to Tottenham in fifth.
The 1-0 loss to Mauricio Pochettino's side in September is still their only league defeat at Anfield all season.
Rodgers' side are top scorers in the Premier League but have been struggling defensively, with seven goals conceded in their last three matches and only Newcastle have conceded more than them in the top half of the table.
But Rodgers is comfortable with the way his team are playing ahead of the trip to the south coast.
"We have improved quite a lot (since the defeat in September)," Rodgers said.
"On that day we had injuries that meant we had to put different players into different positions that probably wouldn't suit how we want to work normally.
"But it doesn't mean it's going to be any easier a game - it's going to be a really difficult game.
"St Mary's has been a traditionally difficult place to go, and especially for Liverpool over a number of years.
"But we've got great belief and confidence at the moment. We know what we're going into each game looking to achieve, and we're going in with the ability and focus to get the results." - Agger will start despite criticism - ====================================== Liverpool defender Daniel Agger faced criticism for his performance in the 4-3 victory over Swansea last weekend and was substituted just after the hour by Rodgers.
But the Liverpool manager took the unusual step of confirming that the Denmark centre-back will start the match at St Mary's.
"There has been a lot of spotlight, unfairly, on Daniel this week," Rodgers said.
"What happened to Daniel was no different to what happened to any player.
"He has been outstanding in training this week and he will play. He will play on Saturday, no question about that." Liverpool's France international Mamadou Sakho could make his first appearance of the year after suffering a hamstring problem in the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea in December.
Brazilian midfielder Lucas is back in training after a knee injury but the game at Southampton comes too soon for him, while left-back Jose Enrique is still out with a knee problem.
The mood inside the Southampton dressing room was lifted following the inclusion of four of Pochettino's squad in Roy Hodgson's 30-man England party to face Denmark on March 5.
Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez were all selected while Luke Shaw received his first call-up and will challenge Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines for the left-back spot.
The international recognition highlights the progress of Pochettino's team this season and, while Saints have won just two of their last six games, defender Dejan Lovren maintains a top six finish is still within reach.
"We are really happy with where we are right now, but I think we can do much better, and we have a lot of games still," Lovren said.
"We want to finish in the best position that we can, so I hope it will be the sixth place, for the Europa League. That would be an amazing place for us, and we can achieve it."