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Southampton-Liverpool Preview

AP - Sports

For the second straight season, Liverpool begin the Premier League without Luis Suarez.

This time, the Reds will have to endure the whole campaign without the most divisive player in world football.

Suarez - the Premier League's top scorer with 31 goals last season - was sold to Barcelona for $130 million in the summer, leaving a huge hole in Liverpool's squad. He was forced to serve a 10-match suspension that went into the start of last season for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in a match two seasons ago, and his latest biting incident on Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in the World Cup preceded the striker being sold to the Catalan giants.

That hasn't dampened Brendan Rodgers' confidence in a side that finished two points behind champions Manchester City a season ago by playing an effervescent style that resulted in 101 goals - one behind City for the most in the league.

"It's the most competitive league in the world and this is one of the biggest clubs in the world," Rodgers told Liverpool's official website. "It's a team that plays exciting football. I'm happy with the players we have got in, and we'll be set up for an exciting season."

It's probably fitting that the Premier League fixtures pit Liverpool against Southampton on the first matchday at Anfield on Sunday, with three of the Reds' summer signings coming from the South Coast club - Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert.

Lallana and Lambert combined for 22 Premier League goals for the Saints last time out, who finished eighth on 56 points for the club's best finish since 2002-03.

Lallana is not expected back until September as he works his way back from a knee injury suffered with England in July, but both Lovren and Lambert are fit to make their Liverpool debuts against the club that they have just left.

The trio's departure was part of a mass exodus from Saint Mary's. Coach Mauricio Pochettino left to take over Tottenham Hotspur, while Luke Shaw (Manchester United) and Calum Chambers (Arsenal) are also gone.

Almost 100 million pounds was recouped from those sales, but the effect on squad morale could be costly. FC Twente midfielder Dusan Tadic and Feyenoord forward Graziano Pelle came in earlier in the transfer window to add some depth to the ravaged squad, while the big-money additions of England goalkeeper Fraser Forster and Hull City striker Shane Long have come just days before the start of the season.

Ronald Koeman is the man tasked with building a new team at Saints, but the former Netherlands defender and Valencia coach knows he must rely on youth this season.

''We have a great academy at Southampton and we have good young players,'' Koeman said. ''I have great experience as a player, I can smell what happens on the pitch and in the dressing room. I will find my way in England.''

Southampton remain without forward Jay Rodriguez, who suffered a torn ACL in April and has been targeted by numerous top clubs, so new striker Long will have big shoes to fill after managing seven goals for Hull and West Brom last season.

"You look at how well they did last season and they are developing a new squad for this year to try and achieve those accomplishments again, and hopefully I can be a big part of that," Long told the Saints' official website.

Liverpool's scoring load will shift to Daniel Sturridge - considered to be one of England's most exciting young players in years. Sturridge is the league's leading returning goal scorer with 22.

Captain Steven Gerrard has retired from international football and can devote all his energy to Liverpool, who last won the league in 1989-90 before the legendary midfielder's career began… but the Reds also have the added burden of Champions League football to cope with this season.

These teams split their two meetings last season, with each winning away from home.

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