Dan Holland looks back at the eagerly anticipated first game of the season from Anfield.
As I walked towards and into Anfield today there were a few changes some more subtle than others, there were a row of houses missing behind the main stand, the advertising boards were all in red, Peter McDowall was still on his jollies but for me the biggest difference was the air of expectation.
Last season’s superb second place finish was largely unexpected as was the runners-up finish under Rafa, but due to the quality of our football last season and the undoubted strengthening of the squad even minus a certain Luis Suarez has resulted in a large majority of Liverpool fans demanding another top four finish at the very least.
The strength of the squad also gives us another talking point in the pub or in the car on the way to the game as it isn’t easy to know who will be in the starting XI.
What would the midfield three be? How would the forward line shape up? Would Lambert start against his old club?
Well as we know Martin Skrtel started alongside Lovren. I personally would have opted for Mamdou Sakho, but after witnessing the Slovakian’s performance on Sunday I am glad to say I got that very wrong.
They already look a perfect partnership; both coming from the Eastern Bloc will no doubt help on an understanding basis both linguistically and in footballing terms.
Skrtel had one rush of blood in the first half when attacking a ball and missing it left Lovren in a one on one situation one which the Croat dealt with admirably.
The Skrtel we saw today reminded me of the one that won Player of the Year for us in 2011-12, that season he played a large part of the season alongside Carra who like Lovren is an organiser and a leader; it appears Martin needs this alongside him.
Dejan didn’t stop talking to his partner all game even when running to the corner flag to celebrate Raheem Sterling’s opener.
The selection in the middle of the park was the biggest surprise for me today. At home surely Lucas and Gerrard is too negative. With Lucas holding, Gerrard was expected to be the ‘legs’ and as much as it saddens me to say it, he hasn’t got that in his locker anymore.
This left us too deep and Philippe Coutinho and Sterling had too bigger gap to fill thus leaving Daniel Sturridge isolated on several occasions. For me it was no surprise to see a more fluid and pacey Liverpool when Joe Allen replaced Lucas.
Not only did Allen give us the same energy which Henderson did on the right hand side of the central three, it allowed Gerrard to sit and orchestrate things.
Having said that it was still a long way from the skippers best performance on far too many occasions Ward-Prowse was given too much and ran things in their for Southampton.
The forward line was as expected with Sterling being nearest to Sturridge and it was the 19-year-old that gave us the lead.
Not only did we see the raw pace and the improving end product from Raheem we saw what is making Jordan Henderson one of the first names on the team sheet.
His tenacity and energy won the ball on the halfway line, he has always had this, but the Hendo we have now got his head and played a sublime ball into Sterling’s path.
Brendan Rodgers has given Jordan this belief and after the goal ‘The Boss’ got Henderson’s attention a thumbs up and a little nod was acknowledgement of a superb piece of football from Jordan.
After the goal the game went flat for a period, this allowed Southampton to grow into the game, and a couple of good saves from Mignolet were needed to keep our slender advantage.
The problems were mainly coming from the midfield as the defence with one notable exception looked secure. Liverpool were the team that was pleased to hear the half time whistle despite Sterling warming Forsters palms just before the referee blew for half time.
After the break the game continued in the same vein with Southampton being marginally the better side and it was no surprise that they drew level and it came from another lapse in concentration from ‘The Curious Case of Glen Johnson’.
I remember when Johnno was a top drawer full back, always a slight question mark defensively but on the whole he was steady but over the last 18 months he has got progressively worse. He is slow, got a poor touch, stands off his man, weak in the tackle and a general lack of interest.
Today he switched off as Nathanial Clyne burst into the area and left Skrtel trying to cover an area he shouldn’t have needed to worry about and a shot which gave Mignolet no chance.
I just hope and pray that the near 45,000 crowd today have seen the last of Glen Johnson. One year left on his contract and hefty wage packet if we get offered anything over £3.50 and a packet of crisps for the England full-back! Take it!
The equaliser spurred Rodgers into action as he readied Joe Allen, before the Welshmen entered the field we could easily have been two down, luckily a weak finish from Davis left us in the game.
Anfield was becoming increasingly nervous and especially the manic depressive sat next to me. Everytime Southampton got the ball he thought they would score and when Shane Long came on he said “this is it now, he’ll score, he always does! I must admit I didn’t realise he is a 30 goal a season man!
It wasn’t Southampton though that got the winner is was to be Liverpool who grew back into the game courtesy of Allen who I have already mentioned and another substitute, Rickie Lambert, he gave us an outlet and held the ball up really well not to mention a presence in the box.
Lambert nearly scored with his first touch and probably would have done had it not been for some great defending by Clyne.
It wasn’t the former Southampton man that got the winner though — Sturridge was in the right place to apply a deft flick on a Sterling header.
In the closing minutes Southampton had a chance to equalise but were first denied by a combination of a great save by Simon Mignolet and the crossbar. The ball then broke to the normally clinical Long who headed wide from six yards out.
The first game of the season is never easy especially when you have a number of new players in the team, and a team that has the weight of expectancy on its shoulders for the first time, but we are off to a winning start and you can’t ask for any more than that.
My man of the match today and on debut was Lovren, noteable performances also from Sterling, Henderson and Skrtel.
Bring on Citeh!