After an agonizing climax to last season and the loss of their star man Luis Suárez, Liverpool will begin their attempts to “go again” when they host Southampton on the opening weekend of the Premier League campaign. Liverpool became the neutrals favorites last season and greatly exceeded expectations in pursuing a first title in a generation right to the death, but dramatic mishaps saw the Merseysiders eventually fall just short. With a squad’s morale to raise and clear positives to emphasize, manager Brendan Rodgers has also been forced to deal with Suárez’s exit to Barcelona.
To counter the loss of the Premier League’s top scorer and the extra demands of a return to the Champions League, Liverpool have chosen to recruit quantity, as well as, they hope, quality. Eight players have been signed at a cost of over £100 million and, while still chasing a striker to try and help replace Suárez’s goals, Rodgers is delighted with the squad now at his disposal.
“I'm really, really happy with the business that we've done,” he said on Friday, reports Liverpool’s official website. “It will allow us to cope with injuries, to cope with all the competitions, and if we can add one or two more in the areas that we want, then we would have had a very, very good window. We didn't sign anyone in January, so we had to make it count this summer and I would say this will be our biggest window for a few years.”
An opening match against Southampton carries with it significant subplots. A full three of Liverpool’s signings have come from the South Coast outfit. Veteran Rickie Lambert was granted his dream of joining his boyhood club and will offer a different dimension to Liverpool’s attack. On Sunday he could well feature against his former club alongside Dejan Lovren, who was eventually prized away from Southampton for a fee of £20 million and should strengthen a defense that was Liverpool’s weak point last season. The third former Saint, Adam Lallana, Liverpool’s most expensive recruit, will miss out through injury, as will young Serbian attacking midfielder Lazar Markovic and defenders Daniel Agger and Jon Flanagan. The most recent arrival Alberto Moreno did not have his paperwork completed in time to feature.
To the dismay of their fans, it is not only Liverpool who have raided a Southampton squad that continued their rise of recent years with an eight place finish last season. England left-back Luke Shaw has left for Manchester United, while fellow-teenager Calum Chambers is now and Arsenal player. Incredibly, the list of departures may not end there, with key midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin having made it clear that he wants to join his former manager Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham.
Pochettino’s imprint on the Southampton team was apparent from the moment he took charge, and he will prove a hard act to follow for his replacement Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman has attempted to make light of the situation by tweeting pictures of an empty training ground, but will have to quickly provide assurances on the pitch that the club is not going to take a dramatic step backward. While being forced to witness so much of his squad dismantled, the much-traveled coach, most recently with Feyenoord, has also recruited heavily.
This week, Irish striker Shane Long, at a hefty cost of around £12 million form Hull City, and Romanian defender Florin Gardos became the club’s sixth and seventh signings of the transfer window. While Gados is injured, Long could make his debut at Anfield, along with goalkeeper Fraser Forster, left-back Ryan Bertrand, midfielders Dusan Tadic, Saphir Taider and forward Graziano Pellè.
“I am very pleased because the club did everything to bring in good new players,” Koeman said, according to Southampton’s official website. “That was very important because it’s a part of the ambition that we have as a club, and we’ve shown that in the last few weeks. “We knew we lost some good football players but we have brought in some new good players and that showed the ambition of the team.”
Prediction: Both sides have seen significant upheaval this summer and will be eager to show that they have not emerged from it weaker. Liverpool require another quality forward option to complement Daniel Sturridge, who can still be prone to inconsistency and Lambert, who Rodgers will not want to rely on as a first-choice option. But Raheem Sterling, in particular, has shown potential to step up and help replace some of the magic lost with Suárez’s departure, and he should cause plenty of problems for a Southampton defense majorly weakened by Lovren’s sale. Not only do Southampton have to deal with an overhauled starting lineup, but it could also take time to overcome the psychological blow of having their squad picked apart.
Liverpool 2-0 Southampton
Kickoff Time: 8:30 a.m. ET
TV Channel: NBCSN
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra