Daniel Sturridge showed Liverpool can flourish without Luis Suarez as the striker’s superb finish clinched a 1-0 victory over Stoke City on the opening day of the new Premier League season.
Sturridge’s first half winner at Anfield was the highlight of an enterprising display from Brendan Rodgers’ team, who showed no signs of being affected by the absence of controversial striker Suarez.
Liverpool needed a last-minute penalty save from debutant Simon Mignolet, who kept out Jon Walters’ spot-kick, to seal the points, but a draw would have been extremely harsh on the hosts after a dominant performance.
It was exactly the kind of uplifting afternoon Liverpool required after a summer spent dealing with Suarez’s attempts to engineer a move to Arsenal.
Suarez, watching from the stands as he serves a suspension for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic last season, was briefly banished to train on his own after claiming Rodgers had gone back on an agreement to sell him when the Reds failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League.
He was welcomed back to the fold on Friday after reportedly apologizing to Rodgers.
However, Sturridge enjoyed a superb finish to last season and picked up where he left off to show Liverpool can still progress, even if Suarez eventually gets his wish to leave.
Still, City should have been ahead in the opening minutes when Mignolet made a hash of a punch and Stoke’s Robert Huth volleyed against the bar from close range.
That sparked Liverpool into life and Sturridge headed home from Steven Gerrard’s free-kick, only to see the goal ruled out for offside.
Rodgers’ men threatened again through Kolo Toure when he powered a header against the bar.
Another quick-fire exchange of passes between Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson gave Jose Enrique a clear sight of goal, but the left-back’s shot was well saved by Asmir Begovic.
Liverpool’s incessant pressure paid off in the 37th minute when Iago Aspas fed Sturridge on the edge of the area and the former Chelsea striker drove a low strike through Huth’s legs and beyond Begovic into the far corner.
After a shaky start, Mignolet at last showed why Rodgers paid ￡9 million (US$13.9 million) for him with an acrobatic save to keep out a Walters effort.
Stoke were given a dramatic chance to snatch an undeserved point in the 89th minute when Liverpool defender Daniel Agger handled as he tried to clear a Charlie Adam free-kick.
However, Mignolet came to the rescue as he plunged to his right to keep out Walters’ spot-kick and then denied Kenwyne Jones from the rebound.