(Peter Crouch 39, Charlie Adam 45, Jonathan Walters 85)
(Ryan Shawcross 5-og, Luis Suarez 32, 71, Steven Gerrard 51-pen, Daniel Sturridge 87)
Manchester United followers, take heart.
Liverpool's defending has been even more calamitous than the blundering backline at Old Trafford.
Monday morning (Singapore time), a buoyant Brendan Rodgers pointed to his prolific pair up front and talked titles.
When he sees the return of dynamic duo Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, he dreams of a return to domestic supremacy at Anfield.
The Reds manager must face straight ahead and marvel at his flying forwards. He cannot glance over his shoulder. If he looks back at his defence, he looks back in anger.
Rodgers believes Liverpool are title contenders. Their sloppy stoppers make a mockery of his optimism.
Suarez and Sturridge's double act overshadowed the penalty-box nightmares that will haunt Rodgers in his sleep and plague his players in training.
Much to the glee of the Anfield faithful, United are allegedly in the middle of a managerial meltdown. They are rudderless vessels lost in a sea of uncertainty.
Their decline is inevitable.United have conceded two goals fewer than Liverpool.
And yet David Moyes continues to be ridiculed for his supposed dithering with his back-four selections. United's defence is ageing, unsettled and forever rotating.
Such accusations could be justifiably levelled at the Reds.
Last season, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie conspired to cover their teammates' shortcomings. Suarez and Sturridge did likewise at Stoke yesterday morning.
United got away with it last year, but Liverpool cannot be so lucky this time around.
While the previous campaign was mired in mediocrity, the major title challengers, in most instances, have recast and repaired their brittle backlines.
Jose Mourinho has brought back his characteristically defensive stability to Chelsea, Roberto Martinez built on the foundation crafted by
Moyes at Everton by incorporating Bryan Oviedo and, when fit.
Arsenal's defensive quartet pick themselves. Their stability and cohesion are key reasons the Gunners have conceded the fewest goals in the league - at press time
Rather like Manchester City, Liverpool's unstoppable scoring machines ride roughshod over any accusations that their defences are vulnerable against wily opposition.
But the league leaders are blessed with Vincent Kompany's peerless leadership and Pablo Zabaleta's incomparable, indefatigable running.
Their obdurate rearguard actions usually cover for the often-exposed Martin Demichelis.
Manuel Pellegrini isn't sure who should partner Kompany in central defence. Rodgers just isn't sure about his defence.
He vacillates between three, four and five at the back; not to suit the opposition, but his personnel.
Liverpool's backline has more question marks than The Riddler's costume.
With Daniel Agger injured and out of favour, Rodgers went with Kolo Toure against Stoke and the Ivorian rewarded his manager's faith by going walkabout for Stoke's first goal.
Unmarked, Peter Crouch accepted the free header as Toure stared at the turf, presumably looking for a puddle of wet cement. He didn't move.
He also failed to mark, tackle or block Jonathan Walters before he scored.
Glen Johnson struggled to get close to Marko Arnautovic when he crossed for Crouch's opener and Martin Skrtel backed away from
Charlie Adam long enough for the midfielder to demonstrate the goal-scoring confidence that deserted him at Anfield.
Championship contenders are expected to toil in the torrid conditions of the Britannia Stadium. But they rarely concede three goals - all of which were avoidable from a defensive standpoint.
Lower down the table, West Brom have let in 28 goals - one of the statistics that led to Steve Clarke's sacking. But that's only two more than Liverpool.
Rodgers has shuffled the pack with the uncertainty of a jittery croupier - Agger, Skrtel, Toure, Aly Cissokho, Jon Flanagan, Luis Enrique and Martin Kelly have all been picked, dropped, injured or played out of position at some point - but appears no closer to a final solution.
The 5-3 thriller at Stoke was a captivating advert for the Premier League, but hardly a ringing endorsement for Liverpool's title credentials.
As Chelsea and City proved last month, opposing defences are not always as generous as Stoke, and Liverpool paid the price for their fragility.
Suarez and Sturridge can win games on their own against limited opponents.
But the Reds' porous defence may lose the games that truly matter
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