LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Daniel Sturridge ensured Liverpool began the post-Luis Suarez era in victorious fashion, scoring a late goal to seal a 2-1 win over Southampton in their first match of the Premier League season on Sunday.
Much will be expected of Sturridge this season after the summer departure of his strike partner and the England international showed his poacher's instinct with a close-range finish in the 79th minute at Anfield.
That salvaged three points from an unconvincing start to the new campaign for last season's runner-up, which took the lead through Raheem Sterling in the 23rd but lacked urgency for much of the game without the effervescent Suarez.
"No disrespect to Luis, he's a great player and will be missed but we move on," said Sturridge, who was the second-highest scorer in the Premier League last season — behind Suarez — with 21 goals. "We have proved we can win games and score goals."
A new-look Southampton, which lost a slew of its best players this summer, equalized in the 56th when Nathaniel Clyne slammed a fierce shot into the top corner and had chances to go ahead before Sturridge came to Liverpool's rescue.
Even then, the victory was only just preserved as Morgan Schneiderlin struck the bar for Southampton in the 88th minute and substitute Shane Long headed the rebound just wide.
"After 1-1, I think it was one team on the pitch playing," Southampton manager Ronald Koeman said. "But the quality of Liverpool, they don't need a lot of opportunities to score two goals."
In these early days of the season, teams will take wins however they come as players readjust to English football after the World Cup and gradually improve fitness. Tottenham and Arsenal — likely top-four rivals for Liverpool — both needed late goals to secure wins on Saturday.
"We had to grind it out today," said Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who revealed that Suarez had sent him a text before kickoff to wish the team good luck. "As the season rolls on, we'll get more fluent."
It's been a busy summer for Rodgers, who used the proceeds of the sale of Suarez to Barcelona for 75 million pounds ($130 million) to spend about 100 million pounds on new signings to bolster the squad for the extra fixtures that will come from playing in the Champions League.
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