Luis Suárez attended this game and received a cheer from Liverpool supporters in the Anfield car park. He witnessed a Liverpool display of some promise, with Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge looking particularly good in a highly mobile front line, though he will also have noticed that had Stoke made more of their chances they could have escaped with a point, not least when they failed to convert a penalty at the end.
While Stoke's lack of firepower is well-documented and an area that Mark Hughes has still to address, they competed well enough to suggest they may not be in for the season-long struggle against relegation many are predicting. That said, had Liverpool been sharper with their own finishing the contest would not have stayed close for so long, although Suárez should be able to make a difference in that department when he returns in five matches.
"Top of the league!" Brendan Rodgers joked, while he still could, and before he began to deadbat all the Suárez questions. Hughes was probably less delighted but left the stadium early to catch a flight, presumably to watch a potential new striker. "It's no secret we are trying to improve our goals tally," his deputy Mark Bowen said. "We knew it would be difficult here but didn't go under, even when we went a goal behind. We are trying to change a few things, and everything Mark asked the lads to do, they did. I can't really fault Jon Walters for the penalty, even if he has missed a few. He struck it well enough but the goalkeeper guessed right."
Stoke could have opened the scoring in the ninth minute, when Robert Huth thumped a volley against the bar after Simon Mignolet had lost out to Peter Crouch when attempting to claim a cross. The new Liverpool goalkeeper would have been anxious to make a positive impression in front of the Kop but the good news is he does not have to play against opponents as tall as Crouch every week.
Liverpool responded by hitting the woodwork themselves, Kolo Touré heading against the bar from a corner after Sturridge thought he had opened the scoring from a Steven Gerrard free- kick, only to be recalled for the narrowest of offsides. When the lively Sturridge threatened again from a narrow angle with Asmir Begovic stranded away from his line, Erik Pieters came to Stoke's rescue with an acrobatic clearance.
Begovic redeemed himself with a save from José Enrique on the half hour, keeping out a close-range shot with his feet after smart passing from Coutinho and Iago Aspas had opened up the Stoke defence. Touré and Coutinho repeated the exercise on the right just before half time, this time presenting Jordan Henderson with a shooting opportunity in the box. Again Begovic saved with his legs, though this time there was more than a suggestion that Henderson should have done better with an inviting opportunity.
When the breakthrough came it was from a less ambitious buildup. Sturridge simply accepted a square pass from Aspas on the edge of the area, looked up and took a pot shot through Huth's legs to find Begovic's bottom corner. It was a classy finish and one that forced Stoke to up their attacking efforts. Mignolet produced a flying save from Walters on the stroke of the interval, though the first half ended with Lucas Leiva clearing off the line from Ryan Shawcross. From a corner, naturally. Stoke might be starting a new era under Hughes, but they are still handy at set pieces.
The impressive Begovic kept the score down with saves from Sturridge and Henderson in the second half, the latter a fingertip deflection on to an upright post after another neat pass from Aspas had given the former Sunderland player the whole goal to aim at.
The goalkeeper was at full stretch again 10 minutes from the end, keeping out a fulminating Gerrard free-kick from 30 yards, while at the other end Mignolet had to look lively to keep out a goalbound effort when Charlie Adam tried his luck from the halfway line. As he does.
Stoke might have been better letting Adam take the penalty two minutes from the end, when Daniel Agger handled. Walters went for power rather than placement and Mignolet dived to beat it away, then recovered in time to stop the follow-up from Kenwyne Jones. The roar was deafening, and Mignolet will not care that it was largely one of relief.
The goalkeeper's Anfield career is up and running. "Simon actually made three terrific saves," Rodgers said. "The double one at the end was the most important, as you could tell from the reaction of the rest of the players. You could see the spirit in the team and that's what we are trying to cultivate here."