Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Liverpool 2-1 Southampton: Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge the new 'SAS'

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.
Liverpool fans display a banner of "Boss" manager Brendan Rodgers in the stands during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.
Liverpool fans display a banner of "Boss" manager Brendan Rodgers in the stands during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool.
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17:  Ronald Koeman, manager of Southampton looks on with Brendan Rodgers, manager of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield on August 17, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 17: Ronald Koeman, manager of Southampton looks on with Brendan Rodgers, manager of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Southampton at Anfield on August 17, 2014 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Liverpool have a new 'SAS' partnership up front after Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge saw off Southampton.

The sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona not only saw Liverpool's title credentials questioned, but ended his lethal partnership with Sturridge.

Such was Suarez's brilliance it is almost forgotten Sturridge was the Barclays Premier League's second highest scorer with 24 last season - but without his world-class partner beside him there is a greater burden on him to deliver.

The England striker did not look lost without him on Sunday, though, as he and Sterling both scored in a 2-1 victory over Saints.

"It's important as a collective unit that we all provide the goals, but it doesn't matter how many we get so long as we defend well and get the goals we need," Sturridge told Sky Sports 1.

"I think with ourselves and the other boys, especially the ones the manager has brought in, with myself and Raheem we have a connection. We go out there and have a laugh and a joke on the training field, but we go on the pitch and give each other abuse at times but we like to get the best out of each other.

"I'm the older brother so I give him more stick than he gives me!"

With Sturridge having a relatively quiet 80 minutes it seemed Saints would leave Anfield with at least a point after Nathaniel Clyne's second-half equaliser, only for the 24-year-old to pounce on his first clear-cut chance.

There had been significant change for both sides over the summer. Liverpool spent upwards of £100million on eight new signings, while their opponents were still in debit having seen a raft of departures - three players to Anfield and manager Mauricio Pochettino to Tottenham.

Only five of Saints' starting line-up started their final match of last season, with four players making their debuts and new £12million striker Shane Long on the bench.

While a suitable replacement up front still remains a target for Brendan Rodgers, arguably his most important summer signing was that of Dejan Lovren - who made his debut against the club he left acrimoniously, albeit for £20million.

Liverpool are still looking for a leader in defence to fill the void left by Jamie Carragher's retirement the year before last and the manager's hope is the Croatian fits the bill as it was an area of weakness which cost them valuable points in their surprise title challenge last season.

The centre-back, incessantly booed by the visiting fans, certainly added more of a presence alongside Martin Skrtel and won headers in situations which have often caused problems in the past.

It was not all plain sailing at the back in the first half with goalkeeper Simon Mignolet getting in a tangle with Graziano Pelle at Southampton's first corner and almost presenting the visitors with an easy chance.

But Liverpool's strength remains in the final third of the field and after scoring 101 goals last season, Sterling opened their account in an incisive attack which split Southampton wide open.

Midfielder Jordan Henderson won the ball in a tackle with Morgan Schneiderlin 10 yards inside his own half and produced a great through-ball for Sterling, who rushed through and shot past Fraser Forster, making his debut following a £10million move from Celtic.

Forster got closer to Sterling's snap-shot on the stroke of half-time and parried - but it was his Liverpool counterpart who produced the better saves of the first half as he clawed away a James Ward-Prowse inswinging free-kick and tipped over a Schneiderlin effort.

However, 10 minutes after the break he could do nothing with Clyne's powerful drive after the Saints full-back continued his run off the right flank to collect a Dusan Tadic backheel which beat Lovren.

Mignolet kept out Davis minutes later with a low save after the midfielder found himself unmarked free 12 yards out as Southampton stepped up the pressure, while another surging Clyne run was halted only by a desperate Glen Johnson tackle.

England striker Rickie Lambert, another Liverpool acquisition from Southampton, came off the bench and had a chance to score with his second touch before Sturridge grabbed the winner with 10 minutes remaining.

Henderson's cross was half-cleared by Victor Wanyama and Sterling nodded it back into the danger area, where his England team-mate poked home from close range.

But Liverpool were ultimately indebted to Mignolet, who in the opening game 12 months ago saved a last-minute penalty to secure victory.

This time he brilliantly tipped Schneiderlin's shot onto the bar in the 88th minute - and watched relieved as Long headed the rebound wide from six yards out.

"The first game is always difficult," Sturridge added. "The pace was high, we worked hard and controlled things, but when they got a goal it was difficult for us.

"But we got the result and that's what matters."

Asked if Liverpool were stronger without Suarez, Sturridge added: "I think so, with the players we have brought in. No disrespect to Luis - he's a great player and he'll be missed - but we move on from that.

"We have shown we can win games, score goals and defend as well. But with the little man (Sterling) and the other players producing the goods, we'll be okay."

 

Further reading:

Rodgers is still on hunt for striker to fill Suarez's boots 

Luis Suarez gets right kick in the teeth as ban is upheld 

Jamie Carragher: Brendan Rodgers can be prize guy  

Liverpool boss Rodgers sounds title warning to van Gaal: 'Manchester United manager will struggle to win title' 

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