Even though Liverpool did not exactly pass their opening day test with flying colours, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about life post-Suarez — although there is still much work to be done.
Rodgers talked beforehand about Suarez “leaving a legacy” among his players following his move to Barcelona.
Not his penchant for biting and the unsavoury aspects of his time at Anfield, but with his relentless appetite for the game, during both games and on the training pitch.
Suarez, Rodgers felt, led the way ahead of even captain Steven Gerrard in his determination and focus. And with the performances of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling yesterday, there is evidence that notion has manifested itself in the psyche of two of his young tyros.
The pair thrived on the attacking responsibility afforded to them by Rodgers. And they expressed themselves and did it with the inherited work rate and determination so familiar of Suarez.
“I think our ambitions here are bigger than one player,” Rodgers said. “Luis sent us a text this morning wishing us the best, a great gesture. He’s a friend now of Liverpool. But you can see the quality of players we have, and there’s more to come.”
At times Liverpool, of course, missed the X factor Suarez brought to the side in the final third. But with a shrewd investment of the €93.5m they received, Liverpool will seek to make gains in other areas, most notably in defence despite a few shaky moments against the Saints.
In Croatia centre-back Dejan Lovren, the Reds have found the heir apparent to Jamie Carragher. A vocal presence as well as a physical one, he looked like he had been part of Liverpool’s backline for years not making his first appearance.
“I thought Dejan was excellent,” Rodgers said. “It’s always difficult when you play against your old team. He’s a real leader and organiser, and was fighting to win.”
Liverpool’s early dominance eventually told, with a goal midway through the first half. Jordan Henderson, who harried the Southampton players throughout, stole the ball in his own half and showed vision to send Sterling clear with an exquisite left-foot pass. The teenage winger escaped the attentions of both Nathaniel Clyne and Jose Fonte and calmly stroked the ball past goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
Southampton equalised with a well-worked goal early in the second half that owed much to a brilliant piece of skill from Dusan Tadic.
Clyne played the ball into the Serbia international, who expertly flicked the ball to the right back who fired high into the net from the corner of the six-yard box.
Liverpool’s winner 11 minutes from time owed to a direct approach. Southampton failed to clear Gerrard’s high cross from the right and Sterling headed the ball into the path of Sturridge, who flicked the ball past Forster.
“It was all about the result and the win,” Rodgers added. “I think for most clubs after pre-season, it is about getting a result. As much as the good football we play, today was about grinding it out so I am really happy with that determination and character. It was very hard fought. Just because Southampton have lost players, it’s not going to be a walkover.”
Southampton were not without their chances in the rest of the contest, and Simon Mignolet pushed a well-struck Schneiderlin shot on to the crossbar, with substitute Shane Long only able to weakly head the rebound wide with the goal at his mercy.
“That performance will give us a lot of confidence,” said Southampton boss Ronald Koeman. “There is always one answer to the story about how many players we have lost and that is between the white lines on the pitch.”
LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Mignolet 8; Manquillo 6, Skrtel 5, Lovren 7, Johnson 5; Gerrard 6, Lucas 5 (Allen 63; 6), Henderson 7; Coutinho 7 (Lambert 76; 6), Sturridge 7, Sterling 8. Substitutes not used: Jones, Toure, Sakho, Ibe, Can
SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-3-1): Forster 7; Clyne 7, Fonte 5, Yoshida 5, Bertrand 6; Wanyama 5, Schneiderlin 8; S Davis 6 (Isgrove 82; 6), Ward-Prowse 7, Tadic 8 (Long 74; 5); Pelle 5. Substitutes not used: K Davis, Taider, Cork, Hooiveld, Stephens
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.