Liverpool, Manchester City open season with tight wins
Title contenders start on right foot
Two days into the English Premier League season and there is a familiar sight at the top of the standings.
Manchester City began the defence of its title with a 2-0 away victory over Newcastle on Sunday, with star forwards David Silva and Sergio Aguero scoring at St. James' Park.
Liverpool — the runner-up last season — was less convincing against Southampton at Anfield but still took the three points, with Daniel Sturridge's 79th-minute goal clinching a 2-1 win in the team's first match of the post-Luis Suarez era.
Raheem Sterling put Liverpool ahead in the 23rd, but Brendan Rodgers' side struggled for fluency and Nathaniel Clyne deservedly equalized for Southampton in the 56th.
With Burnley-Chelsea wrapping up the first round of fixtures Monday, City is the only team to have won by more than a one-goal margin.
"We have talked to the squad about the two 'H's — hungry and humble," City manager Manuel Pellegrini said. "We need both if want to continue winning titles and improve on what we did last season."
Bidding for a third English league title in four years, City began the season in ominous fashion with a clean sheet and a professional performance, sprinkled with opportunistic goals.
Spain playmaker Silva raced on to an impudent back-heel from Edin Dzeko to open the scoring with a low finish in the 38th minute.
Newcastle applied pressure in the final 15 minutes, only for Aguero to add a second on a counter-attack in stoppage time, the Argentina striker slotting into the far corner after his first shot was parried out to him by goalkeeper Tim Krul.
Aguero came on as a late substitute along with Brazil midfielder Fernandinho, showing the strength in depth in the champions' squad after a low-key summer when Pellegrini has focused on bolstering his defence and midfield.
Chelsea is the favourite with British bookmakers after improving its attack by signing Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, but City still could be the team to beat.
"We were brave and we went for it," Newcastle manager Alan Pardew said. "In the end, the quality won."
With Suarez departed to Barcelona for $130 million, a new "SAS" partnership could be emerging at Anfield.
Sterling and Sturridge rescued Liverpool in a flat display that saw a new-look Southampton seize the initiative at the start of the second half.
Clyne's goal — a fierce strike into the top corner after a neat flick from Dusan Tadic — came at a time when Liverpool lost its way and Southampton wasted some great openings before Sturridge pounced for the winner.
Sterling, who slipped home a low finish after Jordan Henderson's curling pass to give Liverpool the lead, turned provider when he headed the ball into the six-yard box where Sturridge reacted quickest to turn in a shot.
The victory was only just preserved as Morgan Schneiderlin struck the bar for Southampton in the 88th minute and substitute Shane Long headed the rebound just wide.
Without Suarez, the Premier League's top scorer last season, Liverpool is set to find life much tougher.
"Our ambitions here at Liverpool have to be bigger than one player," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said. "He sent us a lovely text this morning, wishing us all the best, which was a great gesture.
"He is a friend now of Liverpool but we are bigger than any player."
Much will be expected of Sturridge this season after the summer departure of his strike partner, and the England international showed his poacher's instinct to make it 36 goals in his first 50 league games for Liverpool
"Of course there is pressure on myself to get the goals now with Luis Suarez out of the team," Sturridge said. "It's important for myself and the lads to step up."
Southampton lost a slew of its best players this summer — three of them to Liverpool in Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert — but took positives from its performance.
"If we play like that, I don't think we will struggle," Southampton manager Ronald Koeman said.