Saints goalscorer Maya Yoshida is hoping he can cling onto his place in the team, despite the return of Dejan Lovren.

Lovren was back in the squad for the defeat at West Ham, following a five-week absence with ankle ligament damage.

The Croatian international was an unused substitute at Upton Park, but should be ready to start next Saturday’s game against Liverpool.

Lovren, who has established himself as one of the Premier League’s top centre-backs, has formed a commanding partnership with José Fonte this season.

Those two would appear the most likely candidates to start next weekend’s match, but Yoshida hasn’t given up hope.

With the World Cup on the horizon, the Japan international knows it is important that he does not head back to the subs’ bench for the rest of the season.

“It has been a massive target for me for two years, and it is very, very important that I keep my place in the team and am playing every week,” he said.

“Dejan came back to the squad on Saturday and we have strong competition. I have to show good performances and try to stay in the team until the end of the season.

“We have four centre-backs, two places, so it is tough competition again. Dejan wants to be playing for Southampton and at the World Cup too.

“It is massive incentive to improve; that is what competition gives you.”

Yoshida, who is expected to be part of the Japan squad that will host New Zealand in a friendly next week, added: “Personally, I have to keep my performances as strong as possible, or I will be on the bench.”

Yoshida netted his first ever Premier League goal with an eighth-minute header at West Ham.

But, despite putting Saints in front, his day ended in disappointment, as the Hammers ran out 3-1 winners.

“It was nice to finally get that first Premier League goal,” said Yoshida, who was left to rue a crucial mistake that led to West Ham’s second.

“I really wanted to score, but, obviously, the first priority was winning the game, so we are all left “Maybe there was some poor judgment from the referee, but that can happen in football; we saw it in the Champions League in midweek.

“We just have to look ahead to next week’s match against Liverpool now and be ready for that.

“West Ham are a good team, but if you concede three goals that’s it. We had three or four very good chances ourselves in the second half but couldn’t score.”