Debrief: Life after Suarez starts well as Liverpool discover 'new SAS'
Liverpool's new SAS can share burden of Suarez departure
What will life after Suarez be like for Liverpool? It's been a question asked all summer and in Liverpool's 2-1 win over Southampton we got our answer: it will be different, but they will survive. Brendan Rodgers said after the game that Suarez had sent his former manager a text message wishing the club luck for the rest of the season, describing the exchange as "a real love-in". On the pitch, a similar love-in between's Liverpool's new SAS - Sterling and Sturridge - looks like holding the key to the post-Suarez era at Anfield.
Daniel Sturridge made his 50th appearance for Liverpool and promptly scored his 37th goal, the all-important winner with just over 10 minutes remaining. Sturridge's scoring rate at Anfield is bettered by only one man in Liverpool history: George Allan, who hit 41 in his first half century of games back in the late 19th century - a statistic that shows just how brilliant Sturridge has been for Liverpool since joining.
That the goal came from a Raheem Sterling assist was noteworthy, as it is these two more than most that will likely carry the responsibility for goals and attacking responsibility left by Suarez's departure.
Sturridge's goals won Liverpool 20 points last season - more than any other player in the league - while Sterling's potential is enormous. They didn't combine too often on the day, exchanging only five successful passes between them all game, but the fact one of those moments created the winner sums up the importance Liverpool's new SAS have in helping the club get over Barcelona's £75 million Uruguayan.
Southampton dismiss doom-and-gloom merchants with bright display
We've all seen the memes - the pictures of an empty house on Southampton's first day back in pre-season, the jokes about how they've become Liverpool's favourite finishing school. But on the evidence of a gutsy display at Anfield on the opening weekend, the Saints will be fine, and not the relegation candidates some had previously thought after their summer exodus.
Though dominated early on, Ronald Koeman's team took the game to Liverpool for periods of an entertaining match, equalising through a brilliantly-worked goal by Nathaniel Clyne and playing with welcome confidence, energy and enthusiasm. There were no heads down here and no reasons for doom and gloom. Had Steven Davis and £12 million man Shane Long been more clinical in front of goal, Southampton might even have come away with a second consecutive win at Anfield.
James Ward-Prowse and Dusan Tadic were the pick of the bunch, Ward-Prowse's delivery from set pieces outstanding at times, while in Clyne, Victor Wanyama and Morgan Schneiderlin Southampton have three very good players that can help the team get over the summer losses. Fraser Forster also looked solid on his Saints debut.
Koeman probably needs another central defender or two, but the money is there for them to dip into the market and strengthen further. Keep up this performance level and they should be fine.
Sterling ready to explode this season
Dejan Lovren looked classy at the back on his Liverpool debut, completing 66 of 69 passes while attacking the ball aggressively both on the ground and aerially. James Ward-Prowse too was very impressive and Dusan Tadic looked like he could prove an excellent signing for the Saints. But if one player stood out at Anfield it was Raheem Sterling, whose goal and assist effectively made him the game's match-winner.
Sterling has shown signs, both in pre-season and on the opening weekend, that he may already be ready to step up to the next level for Liverpool this season. It's something Rodgers has touched upon too and while the Reds boss is never slow to shower his players with praise, you feel his excitement only reflects the sheer joy he has in working with the incredibly gifted 19-year-old on a daily basis.
"He scored 10 goals last year and this kid is only going to get better," Rodgers raved last week. "His development has gone to a new level. He’s way above the level from when he first came in.
“Tactically, technically, and what has been beautiful to watch with Raheem has been his maturity. He’s turning into a beautiful young man, with all the responsibility. He’s taking it all in his stride and now he’s in a good place with every part of his game. It’s just about maintaining that commitment to his work. He’s still only 19, but in big games he’s performed and he’s a wonderful talent.”
'A beautiful young man' may be pushing towards the boundaries of homo-eroticism, but Sterling is progressing very well and gradually reaching that upper echelon of most exciting young players anywhere in world football, let alone in the Premier League. With Real Madrid already rumoured to be sniffing around it might be an idea to bring those contract renewal talks with Sterling forward. He looks like he's going to be one hell of a player.
Business as usual for Man City
It took them a while, and the Community Shield beating at the hands of Arsenal may have caused concern for those strange people who take those kinds of things seriously, but it was clear watching champions Manchester City slowly click into gear at St James' Park that - as long as they keep the same unassuming, hard-working approach - they won't be giving up their title without a fight.
It says much about the relative health of both Manchester teams when you look at City's summer dealings and realise that this stable team of champions and League Cup winners have made twice the number of signings as 'in need of a major squad overhaul' neighbours United. Already a fearsome team packed with experience and no small amount of quality, City have still improved the squad with six signings including Fernando - who made a sturdy if unspectacular debut.
City should be feared on strength in depth alone. Here, Stevan Jovetic came off to be replaced by Sergio Aguero, who scored the second goal to kill off the game. Manuel Pellegrini shuffled his midfield pack in-game, bringing Fernandinho on to partner Fernando with Yaya Toure shifting further forward, while Eliaquim Mangala will add immediate quality in defence.
Arsenal and Liverpool have been talked up all summer and many almost assume Chelsea will walk it, but City showed against Newcastle that they won't relinquish their hard-earned crown easily.
Reasons for optimism at Newcastle
Newcastle underwent big changes in the summer, signing nine new players (though Jamaal Lascelles and Karl Darlow were loaned straight back to Nottingham Forest) with six players leaving. Alan Pardew finds himself under huge pressure after a dreadful end to last season, and as such it's important that the Magpies look competitive early, before the howls of discontent grow into piercing screams that see Pardew's position become untenable.
Despite losing 2-0 at home to champions Manchester City on the opening day, the early signs were relatively encouraging. Newcastle's general play was pleasing - they defended well for the most part with Mike Williamson solid and Jack Colback putting in a performance that suggests he will slot into midfield almost seamlessly, adding tenacity and good anticipation, making more interceptions than any other player on the pitch.
Pardew's side had what looked like promising balance to it. In midfield Moussa Sissoko played the 'Di Maria at Real Madrid' role, breaking forward from midfield with pace and forming an important link between defensive situations and attack - the midfield launchpad shuffling forward to spark counter-attacks. Remy Cabella excited - one silky skill in particular leaving Martin Demichelis looking rather silly - and Emmanuel Riviere, though rash in front of goal, looked an interesting focal point, knocking City's defenders off the ball with brute force on more than one occasion.
Newcastle managed 12 shots on goal to City's 13 - the problem being they didn't manage a single effort on target. The defence needs work, and shooting practice could help, but signs are that Life After Shola doesn't have to be all grey skies and sorrow.
Questioning the revolution at Old Trafford
After all the talk of a 3-5-2 revolution at Old Trafford, Louis van Gaal discarded the tactic at half-time of Manchester United's opening day defeat to Swansea City. There are question marks as to whether the formation can actually work in the Premier League. For a team like United, who regularly face teams who come to Old Trafford, sit back and play for a point, is a three-man central defence really necessary?
United play on one of the biggest pitches in the land and against Swansea the spaces between the three bands - defence, midfield and attack - were far too big. If the defence pushes up, however, they're vulnerable to one ball over the top putting a player clean through (Swansea nearly took advantage of this on a few occasions). If the defence sits back, the gaps in midfield are difficult for the midfield trio to cover. A successful 3-5-2 also requires an exceptional centre-forward who can drop deep, beat a man and burst forward with pace, similar to Arjen Robben with the Netherlands. A Gareth Bale type of player as opposed to two static strikers that are easily marked.
Van Gaal will know all this, of course, but it raises question marks as to whether the 3-5-2 can succeed at Old Trafford. If he's to stick with it, the key is to bring in the personnel capable of making it work. With United executive vice chairman Ed Woodward continuing to bungle his way through a second summer in the transfer market, that looks difficult.