Sturridge & Sterling prove there is life after Suarez for Liverpool

The new 'SAS' scored the Reds' goals as they beat Southampton 2-1 at Anfield on Sunday despite an unconvincing performance in their Premier League opener
By Greg Stobart at Anfield

Brendan Rodgers' day started with a motivational text from Luis Suarez but the real reminder of the striker's summer departure came on the pitch here as Liverpool toiled to a hard-fought victory over Southampton in their Premier League opener.

The Reds manager might have felt like texting the Uruguayan back to ask if there was any chance he could return to Merseyside at times in the second-half as Southampton attacked in waves, but eventually the Liverpool players gave Rodgers the response he was looking for.

Suarez's partnership with Daniel Sturridge last season was labelled 'SAS' but that pesky nickname looks like it will live on after the new 'SAS' spurred Liverpool to victory on Sunday.

Raheem Sterling continued where he left off last season with a fine run and finish to put Liverpool ahead before Sturridge grabbed the late winner with a poacher's strike from close range 11 minutes from time.

It made the difference in a win borne out of guts and determination more than the swashbuckling attacking football that inspired their title charge last season.

"Today was a brilliant win for us," said Rodgers in his post-match press conference. "It was a tough game and we had to grind it out so I’m really happy with the determination and character. As the season rolls on we will play better."

Liverpool were unconvincing throughout, particularly in the second period as they were outplayed by a Southampton team that many have tipped for relegation following a summer in which they have lost several key players.

Yet on a weekend when Manchester United, Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham had all produced sub-standard performances, Liverpool made sure they got their campaign up and running with three points.

Perhaps it was even more important for Liverpool to win their opener after the crushing disappointment of the end of last season and the blow of losing their best player to Barcelona.

While Suarez scored 31 Premier League goals last season and led Liverpool's title challenge, Sturridge was far more than simply a supporting act.

The England striker has now scored 36 goals in 50 appearances for Liverpool - an astonishing record - and his goals have earned the Reds 22 league points since the start of last season.

Rodgers has insisted that despite losing their star man the Reds have a stronger, more complete squad than the group of players that finished a narrow second in the Premier League last season.

MATCH WINNERS | Sterling & Sturridge got the goals as Liverpool beat Southampton

He needs Sturridge, more than anyone, to prove it, particularly with the lack of striking alternatives in the Liverpool squad, an issue that Rodgers admits he needs to address.

"I think for Daniel it was just a continuation," The Reds boss said. "We can create chances and score goals. Sometimes he will have quiet games but he always looks like he will score a goal."

If the 24-year-old suffers a significant injury, Liverpool look light up front but they still have the likes of Sterling and Philippe Coutinho who have the quality to open up oponents.

Sterling excelled in the final months of last term and again here always threatened with his speed, trickery and composure on the ball, particularly in central areas.

He may be just 19, but Sterling has the ability and, crucially, the self-assuredness to star for Liverpool this season as they prepare for a title charge and a Champions League campaign.

It is far too early to make any firm judgements on how Liverpool will handle the loss of Suarez, particularly given the disruption to pre-season preparations caused by the World Cup.

Liverpool will certainly play better this season and it is worth remembering that they won plenty of games like this in a similar manner, even with Suarez in their ranks.

And if they are going to provide a repeat of last season, the new 'SAS' will hold the key.