Liverpool has a new look in 2014-15 but its performance in Sunday’s game was reminiscent of one of the most promising periods in its recent history.
Liverpool defeated Southampton 2-1 at Anfield, taking all three points from its Premier League opener. The victory, and the manner in which Liverpool earned it, showed that the Reds are, indeed, ready to “go again.”
Liverpool stormed the gates of the Premier League elite last season, winning 15, drawing three and losing only one of its 19 Premier League games after January 1, 2014. The results came in many shapes and sizes, but the overarching theme was that Liverpool has learned how to win games consistently, and its players are growing into stars of England’s top flight.
This summer was a pivotal one for Liverpool, which sold its best player, Luis Suarez, to Barcelona and reinvested the club-record transfer fee into eight new players (and counting). The soccer world wants to know if the Reds can mount another title challenge. The early signs point to yes.
Scoring 59 first-half goals last season (another club record) earned Liverpool a reputation as the Premier League’s fastest starters. The Reds carried that form into 2014-15, as Raheem Sterling scored 23 minutes into the contest.
Daniel Sturridge, who will carry the heaviest burden of replacing Suarez’s goal output, scored the game-winner. The goal was Sturridge’s 36th in 50 games (in all competition) for Liverpool — an eye-popping ratio that is superior to the departed Suarez.
Sterling emerged as one of the hottest prospects in world soccer last season. On Sunday, the 19-year-old scored with composure that belies his age and created Sturridge’s goal with an intelligent headed pass into the goal mouth. Sterling was outstanding toward the end of last season, played well at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and was probably Liverpool’s best player in preseason. Sterling then delivered a man-of-the-match performance against Southampton in an effort to prove that he is the real deal.
Liverpool won 16 league games at Anfield last season — its most since 1985-86. Liverpool is one-for-one in 2014-15, showing that Anfield remains a fortress.
The Reds checked all these boxes, despite the loss of Suarez and the inclusion of three of the summer signings — Javier Manquillo and former Southampton standouts Rickie Lambert and Dejan Lovren. The personnel is slightly different, but the winning mentality remains in place.
Now for the bad news: The Reds showed plenty of character when attacking, but their defense was far from sturdy against the Saints.
Liverpool only shut out four teams in that 19-game stretch in early 2014, and the Reds’ defense (having conceded 27 goals in the final 19 games) was the main culprit in their failed title bid. Liverpool defended well against Southampton in the first half, but the level of its performance without the ball dropped significantly after the visitors upped their attacking tempo in the second period.
Southampton was on the front foot for most of the second half and might have won or drawn the game had Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet not made a heroic save or if Sean Davis and Shane Long not wasted golden opportunities to score from close range.
While Liverpool’s victory was a nervy one, the most important thing about it was the result in itself. The Suarez-less Reds are a new team, but the result and performance was similar to what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the Liverpool of (not-so) old.