EPL: Reds' hopes rest on terrific trio

EPL: Reds' hopes rest on terrific trio
Iago Aspas


(Daniel Sturridge 37)


The rain lowered the mercury level but couldn't douse the palpable sense of anticipation wafting through Anfield.

Liverpool on Saturday began yet another English Premier League season attempting to make up for lost time, and aiming to finish inside the top four for the first time since 2009.

The way they teased Stoke City in a 1-0 win, courtesy of a Daniel Sturridge goal, looked encouraging at least.

For 90 minutes, Luis Suarez became nothing more than a faint memory.

And for 90 minutes, the frontline of Philippe Coutinho, Sturridge and Iago Aspas played at a level to suggest that they may be life after Suarez, that is, if the Uruguayan does make his exit.

There's no denying that this was a promising start to the Reds' campaign.

They were confident and adventurous. Crucially, they were also, more often than not, producing the sort of passing football that Liverpool's owners envisaged when they hired Rodgers for the job.

Coutinho was central to the fine performance.

Quick in body and mind, the young Brazilian was always in the thick of things.

Thrice in the first half, he put his teammates in an excellent position to score, but Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was keeping out almost everything on Saturday.

This was the sort of form that Coutinho was showing in pre-season, which had observers predicting an excellent campaign ahead for the budding talent.

From the look of things, the 21-year-old Brazilian may be about to make a strong case for himself with the national team selectors.

With Coutinho flying by his side, Sturridge was also tormenting Stoke's defence with purpose and confidence.

The one-touch, intricate football Rodgers emphasises is a good fit for Sturridge's dynamic game, but when the real moment arrived, it was Sturridge, 23, exercising good old-fashioned opportunism that made all the difference.

From just outside the penalty box in the 37th minute, the former Chelsea striker looked up and then thumped a shot that went through a Stoke defender's legs and into the bottom corner of goal.

Variation here proved to be the solution to breaking down a stubborn Stoke defence.

Aspas provided a stern examination for the visitors' backline as well.

Full of running and skilful on the ball, the 26-year-old showed his ability to bring his teammates into the game as well as a great awareness in and around the penalty box.

Liverpool's attacking trio had exhibited their vast potential with great gusto, and judging by this performance, Liverpool's worries this season won't be in the final third of their play.

If not for Begovic's inspired form, the hosts would have won by a much more comfortable margin.

It is the shaky display of new goalkeeper Simon Mignolet which will have Rodgers scratching his head.

Looking uncertain for large parts of the game, the Belgian went on to save Jon Walters' late spot-kick to keep his side's lead intact.

The dying minutes saw the Reds desperately trying to keep out Mark Hughes' men, but they eventually just about held on, for their first opening-day victory since 2008.

The immediate emotion at Anfield at the final whistle should be one of relief.

But quite likely, the encouraging signs wouldn't have gone unnoticed either.

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