In what Reds fans hope will be a sign of things to come for Liverpool post-Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling fired the home side past a surprisingly bright Southampton at Anfield.
The two sides seemed very even for the first 20 minutes, punching and counter-punching in the midfield but unable to land any serious blows. Southampton kept up with Liverpool as the ball found itself on both ends equally.
Finally, the first knockdown arrived after 23 minutes as Jordan Henderson picked the pocket of new Saints signing Dusan Tadic and then in traffic unleashed a world-class ball up the gut to Raheem Sterling.
The 19-year-old winger sliced through the central defending pair caught off guard, and a precise touch squeezed the ball past Fraser Forster for the opener. Sterling gets the credit on the scoresheet, but the work and eventual pass from Henderson would be an early contender for assist of the season if such an award existed.
Liverpool went into a holding pattern for the rest of the first half after their goal, and Southampton came close a few times but couldn’t equalize. James Ward-Prowse slung in a brilliant free-kick from well far out, and the blustering wind pushed it into a course destined for the top corner, but Simon Mignolet was able to tip it behind.
Mignolet was again called into action in first-half stoppage time after Morgan Schneiderlin ripped a curling shot just under the bar, and the goalkeeper was again equal to it.
[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]
It again went back and forth after the break, but Southampton started to build brighter as the minutes ticked on. 10 minutes after halftime, Southampton had their deserved equalizer.
With the ball on the edge of the penalty area, Nathaniel Clyne sent the ball to Schneiderlin and made a run. The 24-year-old midfielder flicked right back to Clyne to slot him through, and Clyne finished with a close-range howitzer that blazed the back of the net before Mignolet knew what hit him.
They almost took the lead seven minutes later when Steven Davis had acres of space in the middle of the box after a ball from Tadić but he scuffed the shot and Mignolet saved.
[ RELATED: Premier League stats ]
Southampton continued to look bright with Victor Wanyama thumping in the middle and the attacking midfielders combining well. But Liverpool would hold firm, struggling to stay level, but their efforts eventually bearing fruit.
11 minutes from the end of regulation, the Reds ignited an unusually quiet Anfield crowd as Daniel Sturridge gave Liverpool the lead. A cross came in from the right edge, and it was headed by Wanyama. But the clear only went up instead of away, and it came down to Sterling who flicked with his head towards the goal mouth. The header opened up the defense, and Sturridge slipped onto the end of it to touch home from close range.
The goal makes Sturridge the Premier League’s leading goalscorer in the 2014 calendar year, with 13 goals to go one above Edin Dzeko, Wilfried Bony, and Luis Suarez.
The Saints continued to push for another equalizer, and they came inches with two minutes from full time. Schneiderlin had another shot from close range, and Mignolet proved the hero to touch the ball onto the crossbar and back out. Shane Long headed the ball on the rebound but it went wide. Southampton initially had a shout that the ball went over the line, but referee Mark Clattenburg pointed to his watch to indicate no goal had been given by the technology.
The game burst to life in stoppage time, but it was Liverpool’s on the day as Sturridge’s goal gave the home side three points to start the new season. They’re only the second home side all weekend to win, following in the footsteps of Arsenal’s lead. Southampton manager Ronald Koeman will be impressed with his side’s effort, but it wasn’t enough to prove fruitful on the table.
Liverpool: Mignolet; Manquillo, Johnson, Skrtel, Lovren; Gerrard, Lucas (Allen 63′), Henderson, Coutinho (Lambert 76′), Sterling; Sturridge.
Goals: Sterling 23′, Sturridge 79′
Southampton: Forster; Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Bertrand; Wanyama, Schneiderlin, S. Davis (Isgrove 82′), Ward-Prowse, Tadić (Long 74′); Pellè.
Goals: Clyne 56′