Southampton put up stiffer than expected resistance, but the Saints couldn't prevent Liverpool starting the season with a home win. It was a close-cut thing: the Reds required a late winner from Daniel Sturridge and several key stops from Mignolet to prevent the visitors from claiming a draw, but wins are wins, no matter how they come, and this one (of the 2-1 variety) was worth as much as any blowout.
As expected, Liverpool began the match well on top, and it didn't take long before they began to put some serious pressure on Fraser Forster's goal. Daniel Sturridge gave the former Celtic man a scare with a snapshot from range, and minutes later Martin Skrtel forced a save with a header from a corner kick. Referee Mark Clattenburg then infuriated the hosts by refusing to give Sturridge a penalty after the striker was wiped out by Maya Yoshida -- replays showed a clear foul, but that contact was outside the area.
A breakthrough was coming, but as it turns out it came from a direct, long pass rather than via Liverpool's industrious work in possession. Jordan Henderson won the ball from Dusan Tadic on the right, rode a Morgan Schneiderlin tackle and then pinged a perfect crossfield pass to Raheem Sterling. Saints right back Nathaniel Clyne was too slow to react, leaving Forster helpless as Sterling steered a shot just inside the post to make it 1-0.
Southampton's reply mostly came through set pieces -- even before the goal they'd managed to send Simon Mignolet scrambling on a corner kick, but despite causing the goalkeeper some serious consternation James Ward-Prowse's searching crosses never quite found their targets. Schneiderlin managed to force a spectacular save just before halftime when he found himself free 20 yards out, but that was the best the visitors managed to do in the opening spell.
They improved significantly after the break, however, and found themselves back on level terms in the 56th minute. Liverpool had already been warned when Ward-Prowse found himself free in the box, but they failed to take heed of the danger, and when Tadic bypassed Dejan Lovren with a cute bacheel flick, there was nobody to pick up the onrushing Clyne. The fullback went for power, sending his shot screaming past Mignolet and into the top corner from all of eight yards.
The Saints could have taken the lead shortly afterwards. Javier Manquillo was having a difficult time keeping Tadic quiet on the Southampton left, and he once again failed to stop the Serbian winger causing problems -- this time he found Ward-Prowse in the box, who up Steven Davis for an open look on goal. Unfortunately for the visitors, Davis fluffed his lines, his shot too tame and too central, and Mignolet gathered gratefully.
Brendan Rodgers replied to the pressure by removing first Lucas Leiva and then Philippe Coutinho, the latter for Southampton old boy Rickie Lambert. The move paid instant dividends, forcing the visitors into a series of scrambles in the box and quickly leading to a goal when Sturridge flicked a Sterling header past Forster and just inside the post.
With just ten minutes left to find an equaliser, the Saints threw everything forward. But somehow, despite plenty of opportunities, they didn't manage to score. Mignolet turned a goalbound volley by Schneiderlin onto the crossbar, with Shane Long heading the rebound just wide of the now-empty net. That proved to be the last real chance of the match, and all of Anfield breathed a sigh of relief when four minutes of injury time went by and Clattenburg sounded the final whistle.
Liverpool starting lineup (4-3-3): Simon Mignolet; Glen Johnson, Dejan Lovren, Martin Skrtel, Javier Manquillo; Steven Gerrard, Lucas (Joe Allen 63'), Jordan Henderson; Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho (Rickie Lambert 76').
Goals: Sterling 24', Sturridge 79'.
Southampton starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Fraser Forster; Ryan Bertrand, Maya Yoshida, Jose Fonte, Nathaniel Clyne; Morgan Schneiderlin, Victor Wanyama; Dusan Tadic (Shane Long 74'), James Ward-Prowse, Steven Davis (Lloyd Isgrove 81'); Graziano Pelle.
Goals: Clyne 56'.