Liverpool began their Premier League season by marching to a 2-1 win over Southampton on Sunday, with Daniel Sturridge providing a late addition to Raheem Sterling's opener to seal the three points.
It was a tough fixture for Brendan Rodgers to start the campaign. The Saints made Liverpool work for their win, but the Northern Irishman was left encouraged by his side's sense of fighting spirit, per Chris Shaw of the official Liverpool website:
We had to grind out a result and today was a brilliant win for us. It was a tough game, the first game back into the new season. I'm 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 are a good side, they have got some very good players and an experienced manager that has come in and got them organised. It was always going to be a difficult game. To get the three points was vital. The supporters were brilliant for us today, as they have been in my time here. We showed guts and determination. Thankfully, we could change the game.
After netting 101 goals last season, the Reds are attempting to find another gear without Luis Suarez among their ranks this term, and Sturridge will be a major factor in seeing if that call to arms is answered.
Rodgers also gained a boost from his attackers, though, and pointed out the options under his command for getting the job done in tough circumstances:
We got to 1-1 and I could look to the bench and change the way we worked. We flipped to a diamond and put Rickie on and I think he unsettled them a bit. They know his qualities; we started to cross the ball into the box and that led to our second goal. Raheem won a great header and Daniel put a lovely touch on the ball to get the winner. I thought it was a great win.
Ronald Koeman's visitors tested their hosts, and the Dutchman felt his side deserved more from his first competitive Saints fixture, per the official Premier League Twitter account:
Southampton boss Ronald Koeman: "We did everything we could to win & deserved much better, but only the score counts." #LIVSOU— Premier League (@premierleague) August 17, 2014
Koeman: "We showed today on the pitch that Southampton are still a good football team." #LIVSOU— Premier League (@premierleague) August 17, 2014
There was a sense during the game that were Luis Suarez still around, the Reds would have posed a more frequent threat on Southampton's goal.
And even following his move to Barcelona, Rodgers revealed that the Uruguayan continues to influence matters for the Merseyside club, per Chris Bascombe of The Telegraph:
Brendan Rodgers says Luis Suarez sent him a good luck text before today's game. "His heart will always be with Liverpool," said Rodgers.— Chris Bascombe (@_ChrisBascombe) August 17, 2014
Rodgers told of the message in his post-match comments, speaking affectionately of his departed charge, per the club's official website:
Our ambitions here at Liverpool, they have to be bigger than one player - I've said that repeatedly. Big clubs will lose players. Our ambition is bigger than Luis. He sent us a lovely text this morning wishing us all the best and that [he hopes] we start strong. It was a great gesture. He's a friend of Liverpool now. But we look forward. We're bigger than any one single player.
Rodgers elaborated further upon Suarez's impact at the club and hinted there may indeed be another striker to arrive at Anfield this summer before heaping further praise on the Uruguayan:
I do still think we want another striker. It's something we'll look at, but it'll depend on the availability of one. We'll search for that through until the end of the window.
But you see the players and the quality we have. The fluency will come and today was about the win - and we got the win. He's a good boy, but he's gone. His heart is with Liverpool and he'll always be Liverpool. It was a lovely touch.
Koeman took to his own personal Twitter account to voice the admiration he had for his side, who have had some stars cherry-picked by Sunday's opponents in recent weeks and months:
Despite the edgy nature of the result, Rodgers was keen to emphasise the fact that points are what mattered most. And with the club still getting to grips with new signings, that's exactly what came.
The manager also highlighted the scoring record of Sturridge, which now sits at 36 goals in 50 games for Liverpool, insisting that his side will continue to improve as the season goes on:
For now, though, all attention will be transfixed on the fact that Liverpool open their account with a win, and the bid to improve upon last season's second-place finish looks hopeful.
Next on the schedule for Rodgers' men is a potential epic encounter with Manchester City on Aug. 25, an early battle of last season's top two that could already open up this year's title race.