Liverpool got off to the perfect start in the new Premier League season with a 1-0 win over Stoke City at Anfield, with Daniel Sturridge scoring the only goal of the game with a stunning 25-yard strike. Liverpool dominated the match, creating a number of good chances, but were left to thank goalkeeper Simon Mignolet for an amazing penalty save in the final minutes.
Three players made their competitive Liverpool debuts against Stoke, with Simon Mignolet starting in goal with Kolo Toure in front of him in the center of defense, while Iago Aspas started in an attacking role. Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique, and Daniel Agger ran the defense alongside Toure, while Coutinho, Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson, and Sturridge made up the rest of Liverpool’s team for the first game of the season.
Both teams were greeted to a very loud rendition of Liverpool’s famous anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” prior to kick-off, and the atmosphere certainly inspired the Liverpool players as they flew out of the blocks at the start of the match. But it was Stoke who almost took an early lead when Robert Huth smashed a shot against the Liverpool crossbar after a Stoke corner kick. Liverpool forced Stoke back into their defensive third and Sturridge headed the ball into the net from a Gerrard cross, but unfortunately for the Reds, his effort was ruled offside. Just two minutes later, Toure headed another Gerrard delivery against the bar with Begovic beaten, and Sturridge blasted the rebound high over the bar.
A minute later Sturridge’s cross-shot was cleared off of the line by Erik Pieters as Liverpool created chance after chance with some sharp passing and movement. Coutinho almost put Aspas through in the box but his pass was just too strong and Aspas’ stretched effort was easily saved by Begovic. Liverpool’s energetic performance was generally typified by the efforts of Aspas, Coutinho, and Sturridge as they continued pressed high up the pitch.
Enrique was then denied by Begovic after combining with Aspas inside the Stoke area and Gerrard shot over from the rebound. Begovic once again frustrated Liverpool, this time saving a shot from Henderson after another great pass from Coutinho. Moments later, it was Sturridge who was denied a goal by Begovic after he fired a right-foot shot at the Stoke goal. But a minute later, Sturridge broke the deadlock with a stunning 25-yard strike low into the bottom corner as Begovic was finally beaten. Stoke responded to the goal with Walters bringing out a good save from Mignolet as Stoke tried to level before the break. Just before the half-time whistle, Lucas cleared the ball off the line from a Stoke corner to keep Liverpool’s lead intact.
The home team started the second half the way they started the first, with Coutinho driving down the left wing before curling an effort wide of goal. Begovic continued to excel in Stoke’s goal as he saved Henderson’s shot after a cross by Coutinho. Moments later, Sturridge had another shot saved by Begovic, resulting in a corner from Gerrard that Aspas headed just wide. Liverpool continued to press for a second goal and Henderson couldn’t have went closer when his curling strike bounced back off the inside of the post.
As time ran on and with only one goal separating the teams, you could sense a nervous atmosphere surrounding Anfield, and Stoke appreciated this as they pushed forward. Gerrard tried to calm the nerves as he stepped up to take a 30 yard free-kick, but not for the first time, Begovic made a great save as he clawed away the ball in spectacular fashion as it headed for the top corner.
Former Liverpool player Adam had Mignolet worried as he tried his luck from the half-way line, but the big Belgian just managing to tip the ball over his bar. But with 3 minutes to go, Liverpool were stunned when Stoke were awarded a penalty after Agger was adjudged to have handled the ball as he attempted to defend a Stoke free-kick. Walters hit the resulting penalty kick low to Mignolet’s right, but the Belgian guessed the right way and palmed away the strike before reacting quickly to block Jones’s follow up to the delight of the Liverpool players and supporters. Liverpool managed to hold out for the remaining minutes to top the league for only a few hours.
Liverpool played very well and should have won by a bigger margin if it wasn’t for some amazing goalkeeping performance by Stoke’s Asmir Begovic and some poor finishing. Liverpool played a high tempo pressing game that Stoke found difficult to cope with. The Reds’ movement was also impressive, especially from Aspas, Sturridge, Coutinho, and Henderson, who all interchanged their positions frequently.
Sturridge looked impressively sharp considering he missed most of pre-season through injury and he deserved a goal for his efforts. Stoke are the type of team that Liverpool have struggled to beat in recent years, and that makes the win particularly pleasing, despite the worrying at the award of the late penalty. A great double save from debutante Simon Mignolet was crucial to Liverpool’s win as well. It would have been really difficult on the players and fans if Liverpool had not won the match after playing so well, but it was overall a great win and start to the season for Liverpool, and hopefully, they can build on this good start in the coming weeks.
Written by Jamie McLaughlin