Daniel Sturridge earned Liverpool three points with a late goal as they recorded a hard-fought 2-1 win over Southampton in the Barclays Premier League at Anfield.
Liverpool were far from their flowing best and laboured going forward. But Sturridge, who has become Liverpool's main man in attack after the exit of Luis Suarez, saved the day with a predatory finish from four yards with just 11 minutes to play.
The hosts controlled the first half, but chances were few against a Southampton side playing under manager Ronald Koeman for the first time.
One of those opportunities led to the opening cool, as an exquisite Jordan Henderson through-ball set up Raheem Sterling, who produced a cool finish midway through the first half. Nathaniel Clyne's powerful effort levelled proceedings in the 56th minute and Liverpool, who finished second last term, could have gone behind but Steven Davis missed a golden opportunity. The midfielder was made to pay as Sturridge reacted quickest to Sterling's header to prod home.
There were still nervy moments for the home crowd, who saw Morgan Schneiderlin's fierce effort tipped on to the bar by Simon Mignolet, before substitute Shane Long headed the rebound wide, but Liverpool held on for victory.
Former Southampton defender Dejan Lovren was one of two new Liverpool signings included from the beginning, alongside Javier Manquillo, while Schneiderlin started alongside four fresh faces for the visitors, who won the corresponding fixture last season.
While Liverpool controlled the opening stages, all they had to show for it was a pair of half-chances. Sturridge first fired into the Kop before Sterling shot straight at Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster but a genuine piece of quality from Henderson helped them break the deadlock.
From inside his own half, the midfielder hit an inch-perfect pass with his left foot that split defenders Jose Fonte and Clyne to set Sterling free. The 19-year-old showed excellent composure to slot past Forster and open the scoring.
James Ward-Prowse almost levelled for Southampton when a long-range free-kick caught the wind in the 34th minute and nearly crept in. Liverpool goalkeeper Mignolet was alert to the danger and was also called into action on the stroke of half-time, doing well to tip a fizzing Schneiderlin effort over.
They were warning signs the home side did not heed, though, and Clyne drew Southampton level 11 minutes after the break. Clyne played a neat one-two with Dusan Tadic, who sent the defender through on goal with a clever backheel. Clyne, who was allowed to run into the penalty area untracked by Lucas Leiva, hammered past Mignolet and into the top-right corner.
It could have got worse for Liverpool when Ward-Prowse centred for a free Davis in the penalty area, but the Northern Ireland midfielder could only shoot at Mignolet after an excellent team move.
Rickie Lambert came off the bench to feature against his former club, but it was his strike partner, Sturridge, who stole in front of Clyne to score the winner, while Mignolet's heroics at the other end were just as crucial.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "We had to grind out a result. Today was a brilliant win for us because it was a tough game. [I am] really, really happy with that determination and character to win a football match.
"As the season rolls on, we'll get better and more fluent. [It was] very hard-fought. They're a good side, I don't think you can think that just because they have lost players, that it was going to be a walkover.
"They've got some very, very good players and an experienced manager [Ronald Koeman] that's come in and got them organised. It was always going to be a difficult game. So to get the three points was vital. We had to show guts and determination. I thought it was a great win."
"Thankfully today, we could change the game. We got to one [goal] each and I can look to the bench and think we can change the way we work. So we flipped to a diamond and put big Rickie [Lambert] on and he unsettled them a bit. They obviously know his qualities.
"We started to cross the ball into the box and obviously that led to our second goal, where Raheem wins a great header and Daniel makes a lovely touch on the ball to get the winner."
Southampton manager Ronald Koeman: "We played a great, impressive second half. After the [Clyne goal to make it] 1-1, there was one team on the pitch playing and that was Southampton.
"We did everything well, minus to score the second one. We create two great possibilities, opportunities, but the quality of Liverpool – they don't need a lot of opportunities to score two goals and that made the difference. The way how we played, that brings us a lot of confidence. And if we play like [that], the points will come.
"We have to believe in our qualities. That was one of the messages that we gave the boys before the match. Little by little, we did it. We played a great, impressive second half and that's the way we like to play. If we play like that, with that team spirit, I don't think we will struggle [for] the whole season.
"How we did the pressing, the high pressing, in the second half, it was a little bit different than in the first half. I think in the first half we lost a little bit of attention in the transition to attack of Liverpool, because they got two chances about that, one was the goal. It was not a good defensive organisation at that moment [when Sterling scored]. [But] we played well, we deserved a better result and that gives us a lot of confidence."
|20 Sep 2014||v West Ham (A)|
|01 Nov 2014||v Newcastle (A)|
|08 Nov 2014||v Chelsea (H)|
|14 Dec 2014||v Man Utd (A)|
|06 Dec 2014||v Sunderland (H)|
|02 Dec 2014||v Leicester (A)|