No Sign That Liverpool Will Lessen Attacking Intent

Whether they miss Luis Suarez or continue to ship goals remains to be seen, but Liverpool 2014/15 looked very similar to 2013/14. That's great news for all of us watching...

Last Updated: 18/08/14 at 08:47 Post Comment

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The traditional warning is that we must read nothing into the first match of the season. No sweeping conclusions should be drawn, no emphatic statements of commendation or censure. Judge players, styles and performance at the end of August, because only then do opinions become valid.

Such advice is, of course, entirely vacuous and unrealistic. Football instigates such strong feelings and emotions that it is impossible to watch a Premier League match and infer nothing. We have waited too long to stay stoically patient.

In that context, Liverpool always promised to be the opening weekend's most intriguing prospect. Whilst the talk of Brendan Rodgers' side 'doing a Spurs' this summer may well be wide of the mark, there is little doubt that losing your best player is unwanted, whatever his baggage. The reaction and response will do much to determine both Rodgers' growing reputation and exactly how highly we should rank this Liverpool side. To what extent was the form and fortune of Luis Suarez entwined in that of his now former employer?

"The philosophy doesn't change," was Brendan Rodgers claim in late July. "The personnel might, but our game principals are very much the same. We want to be defensively strong, good organisation, and then when we have the ball to create chances and retain possession for as long as we can. That won't change now that Luis is gone." Rodgers has stayed true to such a promise, even if his assessment is typically optimistic.

The more things change, it seems, the more they stay the same. The Liverpool manager's insistence that it will be business as usual for Liverpool after the loss of Suarez was intended to be entirely complimentary, but on the evidence of the frantic and nervy victory over Southampton, it was certainly accurate. Exciting in attack? Check. Defensive weaknesses? Check. A sense that victory and defeat may both have to be treated in the same "well, that's what you get" manner? Check and check. We're not complaining.

Raheem Sterling was the star of the show. His manager may have received widespread derision for his description of the 19-year-old as "becoming a beautiful young man", but there was plenty to aesthetically please in his performance. With Glen Johnson effectively given the whole left flank on which to roam (his average position was beyond the half-way line), Sterling was able to drift inside in order to pick up the ball and dribble at both Maya Yoshida and Jose Fonte - he becomes increasingly difficult to legally stop when in possession. His out-to-in run for the opening goal was judged expertly, ably assisted by a sumptuous pass from Jordan Henderson with his weaker left foot. It was a move that provided a further tinge of England World Cup regret.

Another Englishman, Daniel Sturridge, endured a quieter afternoon without his departed partner-in-prime, but was positioned expertly to act as the gleeful recipient of Southampton's bizarre ability to allow the 5'5" Sterling to head a pass unchallenged in the penalty area. A second consecutive opening-day winner for Liverpool's now leading striking option, and Rodgers' relief was palpable.

In between the home side's two goals, however, this was an entirely different (and thoroughly absorbing) encounter, rightly mocking the widespread assumption that Southampton have been gutted throughout the summer and should expect relegation. Rodgers may have preached "defensive strength", but this seemed to be a defence as unshakeable as last season...and that's not intended as a compliment.

Ronald Koeman's side took the initiative following Sterling's opener, Dusan Tadic providing a precocious flicked assist for Nathaniel Clyne to lash home emphatically. James Ward-Prowse was excellent, consistently threatening with driving runs from midfield but with the maturity (he's still 19) to pick out the appropriate pass rather than find only a blind alley. Ward-Prowse started just 16 league games last season, further (unnecessary) evidence that the St. Mary's conveyor belt of talent shows little sign of generating unsatisfactory end products. There never seemed much doubt.

However, whilst it would be churlish and unfair to ignore Southampton's attacking effervescence in response to conceding, Liverpool's ability to create their own problems again provided the headache for their continuously utopian manager. Despite the aforementioned claim of defensive resolve, Rodgers last month admitted improvements were needed.

"(Defence) is a place where we want to be better, there's no doubt about that," he told Sky Sports News. "It wasn't good enough to concede that many goals, considering the amount of possession we had and amount of goals we scored." Actions will speak louder than words.

For the most part Dejan Lovren looked assured, his distribution is a huge fillip for Rodgers (the Croatian completed all 43 of his first-half passes), but with Johnson often caught upfield and Lucas Leiva looking far from a player good enough for a top-four side, Southampton were able to swarm over their opponents. Liverpool were a Simon Mignolet fingertip save (and appalling Shane Long miss) away from getting only the point they undoubtedly deserved.

Rodgers has spent close to £60million on Liverpool's defence in the last three transfer windows, but at some point he may deduce that it is in defensive midfield that a weakness still surely lies, particularly with Johnson's adventure in attack. He will hope that Emre Can is that answer.

The first game of the season is not when questions can ever truly be answered, of course, and therefore offering too many potential solutions remains unnecessary. Liverpool may still miss Luis Suarez, and they may yet have solved their defensive woes of last season, despite early evidence to the contrary on both issues.

One deduction can certainly be drawn with some confidence, however: Brendan Rodgers will stick to his pre-season claim. This will be another campaign during which watching Liverpool will be a thoroughly entertaining pastime indeed. Excitement at Anfield abounds.

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