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Liverpool picked up their first opening-day win since 2008, beating Stoke City 1-0 in the Barclays Premier League curtain raiser at Anfield.
With suspended striker Luis Suarez in attendance, Daniel Sturridge gave the hosts the lead just before half-time, having seen an earlier effort disallowed for offside. Liverpool kept the pressure on in the second half, but they found Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic in superb form, ensuring that the nerves among the home fans would remained frayed.
A penalty in the dying stages looked to have denied Liverpool the win, but debutant Simon Mignolet dived low to his right to claw away Jon Walters' effort, before blocking Kenwyne Jones’s follow-up.
Brendan Rodgers handed full debuts to Mignolet, Kolo Toure and Iago Aspas, while Erik Pieters made his Stoke bow. Mark Wilson was called into Mark Hughes' midfield at the last minute, with Wilson Palacios suffering from illness. The hosts largely dominated proceedings early on, but Stoke went close to taking the lead in the eighth minute as Mignolet struggled at a cross under pressure from Peter Crouch. However, Robert Huth lashed his volley on to the crossbar after latching on to the loose ball.
Rodgers' side reasserted their dominance and had the ball in the net just three minutes later as Sturridge headed home, only to be denied by the offside flag. Toure then hit the crossbar from Steven Gerrard's outswinging corner, with Sturridge blazing the loose ball over before the England man rounded Begovic in the box but, with the angle too narrow to shoot, he saw his clever ball across goal acrobatically cleared by Pieters.
Begovic then had to be alert, rushing off his line to deny Jose Enrique and Jordan Henderson in quick succession, before palming away Sturridge's fierce right-footed drive. The Bosnian was helpless in the 37th minute as the former Chelsea man finally grabbed the first goal of the 2013-14 Premier League season. After he had picked the ball up 25 yards out from Henderson's pass, the Stoke defence failed to close Sturridge down and he lashed a low effort across Begovic into the goalkeeper’s left-hand corner.
Stoke were unlucky to go in behind at the break, with Mignolet palming Walters' fierce drive wide and Lucas forced to clear a Ryan Shawcross header off the line. Philippe Coutinho was at the heart of everything as the hosts pushed for a second after the break, first curling wide before cutting down the left and squaring for Sturridge, whose scuffed shot fell kindly for Henderson, but Begovic produced another superb stop, stretching to his right.
Begovic was again called upon to save Sturridge's near-post effort before getting fingertips to Henderson's lashed effort, diverting the ball on to the inside of a post. Gerrard smashed a free-kick towards the top corner with 10 minutes to go, but it was not good enough to get past Begovic again.
Begovic's good work was almost rewarded with a point with time running out as Daniel Agger handled Charlie Adam's free-kick in the area, with referee Martin Atkinson awarding the penalty. However, Mignolet proved to be the hero as he kept Walters' effort out and reacted smartly to save Jones' follow-up with his body and win the game for Liverpool.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "Considering he's [Sturridge] only been back just over two weeks, it was a great credit to him. He played 90 minutes in midweek behind closed doors, so to come out and play another 90 today [was impressive].
"Just at the point he scored, I made a note for him to take more shots. It was a real good move, to get the space and the power. He's disappointed he didn't get more but he continues to score and that's why he's here - that's his job."
“[Mignolet] made three terrific saves. When you get the penalty against you at the end you get a sinking feeling. But he did his homework - he knows where all the penalty takers are going, he made a good first save and then obviously the second action to get up and make the double save was impressive."
Stoke City assistant manager Mark Bowen: "Obviously we're disappointed because at that late stage you get a penalty and think you're going to come away with a point. He's [Walters] missed a couple in the past, from where I was sat he struck it well enough, I thought the ‘keeper made a good save.
"Jonathan Walters gives everything for this club week in, week out. We will pick him up and pat him on the back.
"You come to Anfield and you expect a tough battle, our goalkeeper kept us in it a few times which you expect him to do because he's a top player. It's a case of staying in the game as long as you can, we're asking this group of players to play a different style, and you have to make sure they don't lose confidence in that but I don't think they did."
|24 Aug 2013||v Aston Villa (A)|
|01 Sep 2013||v Man Utd (H)|
|16 Sep 2013||v Swansea (A)|
|21 Sep 2013||v Southampton (H)|
|29 Sep 2013||v Sunderland (A)|
|05 Oct 2013||v Crystal Palace (H)|