(AFP) – Daniel Sturridge snaffled a 79th-minute winner as last season’s Premier League runners-up Liverpool opened the new campaign with a 2-1 victory at home to Southampton on Sunday.
Raheem Sterling put Liverpool ahead midway through the first half at a sun-soaked Anfield, but Nathaniel Clyne lashed home an equaliser shortly before the hour following a neat exchange with debutant Dusan Tadic.
Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool looked destined to drop points in their first competitive game since the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, but with 11 minutes to play, Sterling teed up Sturridge to flick home the winning goal.
With debutants Javier Manquillo and Dejan Lovren — the former Southampton defender — in their starting XI, Liverpool dominated possession in the early stages and took the lead in the 23rd minute.
The goal owed much to the tenacity of Jordan Henderson, who helped Manquillo dispossess Tadic, won a 50-50 with Morgan Schneiderlin, and then freed Sterling to beat Fraser Forster with a first-time finish.
It was a turbulent close season for Southampton, who lost five key players and appointed a new manager in Ronald Koeman, but they were not cowed by Liverpool’s opener and equalised in the 56th minute.
Clyne rolled a pass forward to Tadic and the Serbian held off his marker before backheeling the ball into the path of his onrushing team-mate, who thrashed a shot into the top-right corner.
Steven Davis could have completed the comeback, only to shoot meekly at Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet from James Ward-Prowse’s pass, and it was a spurned opportunity that Koeman would come to rue.
Rodgers sent on Rickie Lambert, another who left Southampton in the close season, in the 76th minute, but it was Sturridge who claimed the winner.
After Henderson’s cross was partially cleared by Victor Wanyama, Sterling headed the ball on and his England team-mate nudged home from a matter of yards.
There was time for one last scare for Liverpool, with Mignolet touching a drive from Schneiderlin onto the bar and Southampton debutant Shane Long — a late substitute — heading the rebound wide.
City open their title defence later on Sunday when they take on Newcastle United at St James’ Park.
Manchester United’s campaign got off to a false start on Saturday when they lost 2-1 at home to Swansea City in new manager Louis van Gaal’s first competitive game.
Arsenal, meanwhile, needed a stoppage-time goal from Aaron Ramsey to overcome Crystal Palace 2-1.