This weekend marked the first competitive Liverpool game post-Luis Suarez and it was important that their attackers stood up to fill the Uruguayan’s shoes.
Kicking off their campaign at home to Southampton, the Reds ran out 2-1 winners eventually – with both goals being provided by Suarez’s understudies Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.
Sturridge finished with last season with 21 goals, so it is now down to Sterling to up his goal tally to keep Liverpool looking like title contenders.
His superb display against the Saints will be a real boost to Liverpool fans – who may have been worrying after the departure of their star striker.
The speedy attacker latched on to a superb Jordan Henderson through ball and slotted home past Southampton new-boy Fraser Forster. Sterling showed the movement, intelligence and composure of a veteran striker – coolly placing the ball into the back of the net.
This brings promise for Liverpool fans in itself, as the sometimes-wayward Philippe Coutinho will be unlikely to chip in with too many goals, so it’s vital that Sterling takes his chances to keep the Reds in title contention.
Southampton pulled a goal back, but Sterling turned creator in the build up to Liverpool’s winner.
He was positioned perfectly to nod a clearance back into the box, which fell at Sturridge’s lethal left boot. The England striker tapped home from a couple of yards out. A goal and an assist on the opening day of the season – a great start for the youngster.
There has been talk of Sterling being rewarded with a new big-money deal to ward off interest from Real Madrid and to thank him for his stunning displays last season. His performance this weekend suggests he is eager to earn that increase, dragging his side to victory.
The attacker completed 82% of his passes during the game, spread across the final third and middle of the park. He also provided an assist and set up a shooting opportunity for a team-mate.
His longer balls were less accurate, but with the likes of Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren all capable of a superb long pass – it should not worry Liverpool fans too much.
Three of the 19-year-old’s four shots were on target, with two of them being saved by Forster. He was willing to have a go in-and-outside the box, which is a promising sign for Liverpool and England supporters alike. If he continues to show the confidence to shoot when the opportunities arise, he will easily begin to increase his goal tally.
Sterling also won 71% of his take ons, beating his man five times out of seven attempts which is a brilliant rate. If he can average anywhere near 71% success with take ons and 82% passes completed over the course of the season, he will be indispensable to the club.
Even defensively he was good. The diminutive winger won 100% of his attempted tackles – two – and even chipped in with an interception and a headed clearance to relieve pressure for the home side.
The performance was definitely a positive for Brendan Rodgers, who will be looking to the youngster to provide some of those moments of magic that made Luis Suarez the superstar he is.