The 2014/2015 Barclay's Premier League season began yesterday but the Opening Day for my beloved Liverpool FC came this morning against Southampton FC at Anfield. After last year's resurgence, Liverpool could not afford to slip up early at home against Southampton, a team that had been ransacked by transfers this summer after an eighth place finish last year.
Debuts were handed to Javi Manquillo and Dejan Lovren for Brendan Rodgers' men with Rickie Lambert available off the bench. Both former Saints (Lovren & Lambert) received warm reactions from the travelling Southampton fans for their service to their former club.
Liverpool controlled the pace early as they were able to keep the Southampton midfield and defense off balance particularly Jose Fonte and Maya Yoshida. The two defenders struggled with the pace and movement of Philippe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling, and Daniel Sturridge with both making life on new signing, former Celtic keeper Fraser Forster, tougher than it needed to be. Another new signing for Southampton, Graziano Pelle, was underwhelming in the first half. The 6'4" Italian was easily beaten to feeding headers by the shorter Lovren and Martin Skrtel.
The initial breakthrough came from the Reds on a brilliant sequence from two youngsters. Jordan Henderson played an exquisite pass over the top to Sterling and the 19 year old calmly controlled it and slotted it far corner past Forster. There was nothing the Southampton keeper could do and it was 1-0 Liverpool after 23 minutes.
After that goal however, the majority of the goalward pressure came from the visitors. They were the more dangerous team in the final twenty minutes of the half with the best effort coming from Morgan Schneiderlin who forced Simon Mignolet into a very good save with a dipping drive in the 45th minute.
No changes were made at the interval but you could tell Southampton were still riding high from the momentum they'd gained from the second part of the first half. Mignolet looked very unsettled and out of sorts early on, diving unnecessarily for balls and reacting later to tame shots than we are used to from the Belgian keeper.
Mignolet's early shakiness and a collective nap from Liverpool's midfield and defense led to Southampton's equalizer in the 54th minute. Nathaniel Clyne made a bombing run from fullback up the flank and a cheeky back heel from Dusan Tadic, who'd been dreadful beforehand, set up the Saints defender to laser it over a helpless Mignolet.
Tadic was back at it again less than ten minutes later as he played in James Ward-Prowse, who like Sterling is just 19. Ward-Prowse was able to squeeze a pass into Steven Davis who missed an absolute sitter trying to put it across the empty goal as Mignolet scrambled. Any pace on the ball and it would have been 2-1 Saints.
Southampton shot themselves in the foot yet again in the 67th minute as there was a chaotic scramble in front of the Liverpool net with several Saints attackers taking hacks at it. Ward-Prowse had the cleanest effort but nothing came of it. Like the Davis miss before, this lack of clinical finishing would come back to bite them.
Joe Allen had come on for Lucas and the change changed the complexion of the game. LFC took better care of the ball after the Welshman's introduction and forced the issue on a Southampton squad who looked disheartened by their inability to convert easy chances and break the deadlock.
Rickie Lambert's dream came true as he made his Reds debut in the 76th minute for Coutinho, two minutes after Shane Long took his Southampton bow for the erratic Tadic. Both would play big parts in the closing of this tie.
Lambert's presence in the box took only three minutes to pay dividends as he absorbed the attention of two defenders allowing Raheem Sterling to head a ball down to Daniel Sturridge, who tapped it home past Forster. The 79th minute go-ahead goal for Sturridge was a long time coming and it looked like SAS had upgraded to Version 2.0.
As Liverpool did their best to hang on to an Opening Day W, Southampton chased the ball. They finally got it back and their last gasp effort had Liverpool fans gasping for breath. Pelle finally got his head to a high ball and it fell right to the Frenchman Schneiderlin who blasted a seemingly untouchable effort at goal. Simon Mignolet had other ideas and with the slightest of fingertip touches put it onto the bar. The trend of the Saints missing gimmes continued though as the clang off the bar fell right to Shane Long who had nothing but net in front of him yet headed it five feet wide.
Four minutes of injury time led to nothing for either side and three points were confirmed upon the referee's whistle. Sterling was easily the man of the match but Mignolet, like in last season's opener, was invaluable in net. Lovren and Manquillo proved their worth in their first appearance at Anfield.
Trevor Utley, who bleeds Liverpool red, will try to provide reports for every LFC game this season in the league, cups, and Champions League.
Image Credit: LFC vs SFC (saintsfc.co.uk)