Vital Report: Stoke City 0-1 Liverpool
Barclays Premier League
09/08/2015, 4.00pm BST
Liverpool strike late to banish the memories of last season's horror show at the Britannia with a 1-0 win...
Kop boss Brendan Rodgers handed four of his major summer signings - Nathaniel Clyne, Joe Gomez, James Milner and Christian Benteke - instant debuts at Stoke City with the other three amongst the substitutes.
An uneventful opening saw both teams struggle to find their rhythm and threaten the opposing goalkeeper.
Former Reds midfielder Charlie Adam did have an early half chance but badly sliced an awkward bouncing ball from just inside the area.
Mame Biram Diouf finally produced a shot on target as the clock ticked towards 20 minutes but even that was a speculative effort and the game remained a tight and even contest.
Much of Liverpool's best attacking play was coming down the right through Clyne and Jordan Ibe but Benteke remained a largely isolated figure through the middle.
Some nervy moments at the back, twice involving errant Simon Mignolet kicking, could have ended in tears for the Merseysiders but fortunately led to nothing.
Recently departed Anfield full-back Glen Johnson was having a good game for his new side and could have opened the scoring following a goalmouth melee but fired over.
Liverpool's best moment of the first half came through a powerful run and turn from Benteke but the Belgium international couldn't quite get on the end of Philippe Coutinho's flicked return pass.
Both sides started the second period much more positively with Marko van Ginkel and Benteke both missing half chances.
Despite an increased desire and tempo, clear-cut opportunities remained incredibly scarce initially, although Diouf was inches away from getting on the end of a dangerous Jonathan Walters free-kick.
A beautiful turn and run from Coutinho, out of keeping with much of the football on display, almost delivered a goal but the Brazilian was closed down quickly and then Benteke's follow up blocked.
A period of prolonged Liverpool assertiveness finally arrived around the 70th minute mark as Martin Skrtel tested Jack Butland with a header and Jordan Henderson rushed an opening when he had time and space on his side.
At the other end a timely block from Skrtel prevented a Van Ginkel effort from testing Mignolet.
Rodgers introduced Roberto Firmino with 15 minutes to go and the big-money attacker was instantly involved with some neat touches and direct running, fellow substitute Emre Can, on for Adam Lallana shortly after the hour mark, was also performing well.
The visitors had to be alive defensively late on to snuff out a couple of dangerous Stoke attacks and they were rewarded with a spectacular late winner.
Coutinho, despite a limited pre-season following his involvement at the Copa America, expertly turned and thumped a shot past the despairing Butland from distance with just four minutes remaining.
The strike was similar to several the dynamic Brazilian scored last season and, given what had preceded it in a tight and uneventful encounter, the quality was magnified.
A fantastic start to the new season regardless of the performance or the fact the three points were probably not entirely deserved. At times our play was incredibly disjointed and we rarely threatened, but that is hardly a surprise at such a formative stage of the campaign, particularly following an underwhelming pre-season. On a positive note, many of the traits shown, such as organisation and commitment, were massively lacking during 2014-15 and they should provide a solid foundation for the wealth of new attacking talent to settle and prove their worth.
Philippe Coutinho - The little magician always looked the most likely to conjure something and so it proved.
Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel, Lovren, Gomez, Henderson (c), Milner, Lallana (Can 63'), Ibe (Firmino 78'), Coutinho, Benteke.
Unused subs: Bogdan, Toure, Moreno, Origi, Ings.
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