LIVERPOOL: Daniel Sturridge showed Liverpool can flourish without Luis Suarez as the striker’s superb finish clinched a 1-0 victory over Stoke 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’s 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’s spot-kick, to seal the points, but a draw would have been extremely harsh on the hosts after a dominant performance.
“You always pick the corner to go to and today I picked the right one,” Mignolet told BT Sports when asked about his penalty heroics.
“I was a bit nervous for the first 15 minutes playing in front of the Kop on my debut, but I kept a clean sheet which is the important thing.”
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 apologising to Rodgers for his behaviour.
But England forward Sturridge had enjoyed a superb finish to last season and he picked up where he left off to show Liverpool can still progress, even if Suarez eventually gets his wish to leave.
Stoke’s new boss Mark Hughes wasn’t even born when his club last won at Anfield in 1959, but City should have been ahead in the opening minutes when Mignolet, the Belgian goalkeeper signed from Sunderland to replace Pepe Reina, made a hash of punching clear and Stoke defender Robert Huth volleyed against the bar from 12 yards.
That sparked Liverpool into life and Sturridge, back from an ankle injury, headed home from Steven Gerrard’s free-kick, only to see the goal correctly ruled out for a tight offside decision.
Rodgers’s men threatened again through debutant Kolo Toure when the former Manchester City defender powered a header against the bar.
Begovic came to Stoke’s rescue again when he denied Henderson and then Sturridge in quick succession.
But 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 for the first goal of the new Premier League season.
After a shaky start, Mignolet at last showed why Rodgers paid £9 million ($13.9 million, 10.6 million euros) for him with an acrobatic save to keep out a Walters effort, but the Liverpool keeper needed help from a goalline clearance by Lucas when Ryan Shawcross’s header deflected past him on the stroke of half-time.
The Reds almost doubled their lead early in the second half when Henderson’s shot forced a full-stretch stop from Begovic.
And the Liverpool midfielder was frustrated again by Begovic midway through the half when the Bosnian pushed another goalbound strike onto a post.
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.
But Mignolet came to the rescue as he plunged to his right to keep out Walters’s spot-kick and then denied Kenwyne Jones from the rebound.
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