Daniel Sturridge scored the only goal of a very open and entertaining game, from which Simon Mignolet emerged as the late hero after an uncertain start
The lid comes off Anfield, as the home side register an opening-day win. Daniel Sturridge scored the winner, Simon Mignolet was the hero, and Asmir Begovic was the man of the match. A deserved result, but only just! Final word to Michael Brett, who would like to correct my algebra: "Adam = Pele + 2(Beckham+Alonso)"
90 min +3: The ref has decided to keep this one going.
90 min +2: Coutinho looks for the top right from the edge of the area. The shot's deflected, allowing Liverpool to faff around by the corner flag awhile.
90 min +1: There will be three added minutes of this, of which the first passes without incident.
90 min: Liverpool eventually mop up the pressure, Mignolet claiming another ball thrown into the box. The ball's shuttled upfield. In the centre circle, Nzonzi grabs Lucas's hair, and could easily have seen a second yellow.
89 min: Walters fires the ball towards the bottom left. Mignolet meets the scuffed shot, and parries the rebound! An instant hero, after a shaky start! What a story this could be! Though there's still a job to do, a point Mignolet makes by screaming at his team-mates to calm down, as they mob him in relieved glee.
88 min: Sterling accidentally puts his boot into Cameron's coupon as he looks to hook the ball clear. Free kick to Stoke down the right. The ball's swung into the box - and in the resulting melee, the ball brushes Agger's hand as he waves his arms about stupidly. Penalty!
86 min: Liverpool are in danger of turning into latter-day Arsenal here. They're trying to walk the ball into the net. Coutinho, Sterling and Sturridge play a game of After You Claude in the Stoke penalty box. Had one of them blootered it, they might have had a chance of scoring. As it is, they're eventually crowded out. Very poor, but that's more staunch defence from Stoke City.
85 min: Liverpool finally break upfield through Sturridge, who wins a corner down the right. Gerrard swings one in. It's hoicked out on the other side. Begovic claims the second set piece. Anfield is very quiet. Stoke are up for this, and everyone, including Liverpool, knows it.
83 min: Nothing from the corner, though Liverpool are being pinned back here. Stoke are throwing ball after ball into the box, and the home side aren't doing a particularly good job of clearing them.
82 min: Adam decides to go for the top-left corner from inside his own half, tight on the left touchline. And it's stunningly accurate! Mignolet is forced to scamper back and tip the ball over for a corner! Charlie Adam = Pele + (Beckham + Alonso x2)
81 min: To warm applause for all four corners of the ground, Crouch goes off. Here comes Jones. If anyone can test this rickety Liverpool back line, it's him.
79 min: How on earth have Liverpool not added to the scoreline here? Gerrard arrows a free kick towards the top right. He's denied by another astonishing Begovic save. From the resulting corner, the ball breaks to Johnson right next to the left-hand post, but the full-back can't get a shot away. Toure holds his head in frustration.
78 min: Anfield is nervous, and with good reason: there's only a goal in it, and Stoke look like they've got one in them. Walters makes good down the left and chips one across, Jose Enrique dealing well with a clever backward header towards Coutinho on the left wing. When Coutinho wriggles free upfield, the relief from the home support is audible.
77 min: Adam twists and turns, like an oil tanker, 25 yards from goal, then tries to float a chip into the top right. He doesn't get enough juice on the effort, and the ball wafts apologetically into Mignolet's hands. Liverpool fly up the other end, Sturridge going on a solo sortie down the right which culminates in a shot that doesn't come off.
76 min: It's all about Toure at the moment. Now he's booked for a laughably late lunge on Wilson, deep inside the Stoke half.
74 min: Liverpool flood forward in numbers. Sturridge, down the inside left, makes up 20 yards before walloping a rising shot wide right of the target. Toure, of all folk, was going on a rampaging run down the middle, looking for the pass inside! This Liverpool side look far from the finished product, but you can't say they're not trying to be expansive. Toure's Total Football.
72 min: Aspas departs to a warm round of applause from the Anfield faithful. He's been promising today without being particularly brilliant. Sterling comes on in his wake. "Carragher was a great defender and a great presence within the team, but, as his own goals tally was higher than his goals scored, he offered less than nothing going forward," writes Matt Dony. "Kolo Toure already looks like he'll be good for a couple of goals. I'm feeling more and more confident about the season. (Cue two Stoke goals from silly, dinky, misplaced passes from Liverpool defenders in the last ten minutes.)"
71 min: Wilson goes on a meander down the inside right channel, and takes a dig from 20 yards. It's a decent effort, but straight at Mignolet, who handles well.
70 min: BT Sport, itching to use their new goalline technology, give it a run-out for Henderson's recent shot. It did indeed hit the post, the ball didn't cross the line - even if nobody sane would have argued that it did - and it's NO GOAL! Thanks, Hawkeye! Thanks!
68 min: Free kick to Stoke down the right. Pennant whips the ball in. Gerrard heads clear. The ball's nutted back into the mixer, whereupon a minor stramash develops. Crouch hacks weakly at goal, Mignolet gathering. Gerrard meanwhile rolls around on the floor, with a view to winning a free kick, which is exactly how things pan out.
66 min: Coutinho wins a corner down the left and takes it himself. All the Stoke defenders miss it. The ball lands at the feet of Toure, who looks to switch feet and curl one into the top left, but it was never going to happen. Stoke flood upfield, Walters not far away from evading Agger on the edge of the Liverpool D under a high ball. Highly entertaining end-to-end action.
64 min: Henderson is having his day spoilt by Begovic. The Liverpool midfielder cuts inside from the right and skelps a goalbound shot towards the top left. Begovic gets the very end of his finger to the ball, sending it hammering off the left-hand post and away. What a shot, but what a save. Begovic is some keeper.
63 min: Stoke make two changes. Two former Liverpool players come on. Pennant for Etherington, while Whelan departs for Charlie Adam.
61 min: Coutinho slips a ball down the inside-right channel for Sturridge, who takes a pointless touch out to the left before banging a shot straight at Begovic from an angle that would have never beaten such a keeper. Still, that's a corner. From which Aspas meets the ball with his head, level with the left-hand post. The ball flies across the face of goal and out of play on the right.
59 min: Coutinho, Aspas and Sturridge triangulate nicely down the left. They go nowhere, but Liverpool will be happy at the early signs of chemistry.
57 min: Quite a few clattering tackles going in right now, but there's no side to this game. It's being played at high tempo, with no little determination, by both sides, and yet nobody's thrown the toys from the pram yet. Good, old-school stuff.
54 min: Coutinho skitters down the left and fires a low ball into the Stoke area. Sturridge miskicks, but Henderson is on the penalty spot, ready to rasp a rising snapshot towards the top left. It's a stunning strike, but Begovic reacts excellently to parry clear. At which point the flag goes up, and the move's over. What a save! To think Liverpool were linked with Mignolet and Begovic during the close season. I'd imagine a few sideways glances have been exchanged in the Anfield stands this afternoon.
53 min: Palacios, who was named in the opening line-up but didn't make it as far as the match, has been taken to hospital for some unspecified reason. God speed, and all that. Meanwhile it appears Luis Suarez has been spotted in the Anfield stands smiling, but I'm not 100 percent sure anyone cares any more.
50 min: A fairly quiet Anfield at the moment, with nothing much going on in the game. What happened to that atmosphere? Perhaps they're all midway through the metronomic first section of the David Peace book, and have fallen asleep. "Special mention should go to BT Sport co-commentator Mickey Owen," writes Josh Cryer, typing using his eyebrow, which is pinging up and down in the ironic style. "He is doing a sterling impression of Alan Shearer’s monotonous stating-the-obvious. They would make a great punditry partnership to rekindle their England striking one." And as successful as their professional pairing at Newcastle United, too, I'll be bound.
47 min: Coutinho goes on a zip down the left wing, cutting in and making it into the box. He's got Sturridge and Aspas inside him, but opts to take a shot himself. Falling backwards, he opens his body and sidefoots a curler just wide right of the goal. You couldn't blame him for taking that on, though I doubt his team-mates will see it that way.
46 min: A correction! Lucas wasn't booked for his challenge on Nzonzi towards the end of the first half. In fact, Nzonzi was the man booked, for an earlier cruncher on Coutinho.
And we're off again! That was a fascinating first half. Stoke City were set up, and subsequently acted, pretty much as expected. Solid, dangerous on the break, a lot of trouble at set pieces. Walters, Nzonzi and Crouch have buzzed around in the determined style, while Huth has been on his game at both ends of the pitch. Liverpool on the other hand were a mixed bag: they were sometimes exhilarating in their play up front, with Coutinho magnificent and Aspas promising, pressed at a high tempo in the midfield, but were all over the shop at the back. Mignolet, one save apart, is having a shocker, while neither Toure nor Agger appear capable of totally imposing themselves. Early days for a new defensive unit, of course. Stoke will fancy their chances of getting back into this as a result, though. Here we go, then, for the second period, which Stoke get underway, Livverpool kicking towards the Kop this time. No changes.
A man from Merseyside throws a pot.
And that's that for the half! Only one goal in it. Liverpool could easily be three or four goals to the good; on the other hand, they could so easily be losing, too. This is a pretty entertaining match so far; seems the BT Sport apparatchiks knew what they were doing after all, huh?
45 min: ... Stoke are denied again! The ball, coming in from the right, comes off Huth, but Stoke are awarded a corner. From which Lucas is forced to clear off the line as Shawcross lifts an effort goalwards past the once-again-flapping Mignolet!
44 min: Coutinho takes a lash towards the bottom left from nigh on 30 yards. Naw. The play goes up the other end, and Lucas is booked for bowling Nzonzi over as he romps up the field. And from the free kick ...
42 min: Mignolet finally announces himself as Liverpool's keeper! The home defence struggle to clear the ball on the edge of their area. A loose Lucas header sets up Walters, who takes a dig from the edge of the D. He hammers a stupendous shot towards the top right, but the debutant fingertips away at full stretch. Anfield celebrate the save as they celebrated Sturridge's goal, in an attempt to give the nervous keeper succour.
38 min: Stoke won't be too disheartened: a couple of minutes before Sturridge's goal, they pumped a long pass into the area, both Etherington and Walters nearly latching onto the loose ball. Liverpool certainly haven't looked confident at the back, which is I suppose fair enough seeing they've got a new goalkeeper and centre half. But Stoke could easily exploit that uncertainty; Liverpool will be desperate to score again before they can play with a bit more freedom.
But he can't do anything about this! Liverpool have put together several moves of baroque intricacy, but when their opener comes about, it's so simple: Sturridge taking possession of a ball rolled to him from the right, 20 yards out, and threading a superlative shot into the bottom right! The excellent Begovic is at full stretch, but can do nothing to stop that. A deserved lead, on the balance of play.
36 min: Another fine save by Begovic! Sturridge skedaddles down the right and bangs a shot goalwards, but the keeper is inspired. He's putting on one of those performances!
34 min: What a stunning pass by Phillipe Coutinho! He drops a shoulder 25 yards out, and hovers over the ball before pinging a perfect pass down the inside right. Aspas is free, and should be taking that first-time with his right into the right-hand corner, but decides to nick the ball inside and fire away with his left. The extra time it takes allows Begovic to come out and smother brilliantly. What a waste of a stunning piece of playmaking.
32 min: It's all a bit loose again. Stoke are snapping away in the tackle. Tony Pulis will be proud. Mark Hughes won't be too unhappy, either; they're looking very solid, and not letting Liverpool settle at all.
29 min: Suddenly Liverpool spring into life, and in an aesthetically pleasing manner, to boot. Coutinho slides a ball in from the left, Aspas flicking a first time pass down the inside-left channel to release Jose Enrique in on goal. Begovic comes out to smother. That would have been a picturebook goal. The ball flies out to Gerrard, who looks for the top-right corner from distance, but the effort's all over the shop. BT Sport replay footage of a marvellous move for 0.00000000032 seconds, then linger on a slow-motion shot of Brendan Rodgers clapping for what seems like 10 minutes. Well done, BT Sport! Well done!
27 min: Stoke will be pleased with the way this game is going. They've weathered that early Liverpool storm - and of course could have taken the lead themselves. The home team appear to have lost a little faith in themselves. Mignolet, connecting well this time, blasts a clearance down the left, but Coutinho can't get on the end of it.
25 min: Cameron could easily have been booked for a cynical obstruction of Coutinho, but this season's Premier League remains blemish-free at the moment.
23 min: Lucas slides a ball in from the right to Coutinho, who attempts to fire a sidefooter into the top-right corner from distance. It's high and wide. A frown. Liverpool would do well not to get frustrated too early, as they've looked good going forward, if highly shaky at the back.
22 min: A lull, as neither team seems able to string two passes together at the moment. One pass appears a pipe dream at times.
20 min: Coutinho cuts across the front of the Stoke area, left to right, then fizzes a low pass down the inside-right channel for Aspas, who sticks out a leg and directs a fizzer straight at Begovic. Decent hands from the keeper. By way of comparison, it wasn't decent feet from Mignolet a few seconds before, as he'd allowed himself to be closed down by Nzonzi with the ball at his feet, his clearance ballooning up into the air. This is a visibly nervous start to Mignolet's Liverpool career. The shadow Pepe Reina casts is long, even when the sun's not out.
18 min: Cameron swings a long diagonal ball into the Liverpool box from a deep position on the right. He's crowded out by a pincer movement launched by Toure and Johnson. Crouch claims for a penalty, but he'll not be getting that.
17 min: Crouch chases a ball down the left. Agger looks to shepherd it out of play. Crouch hooks a long leg around Agger, keeps the ball in, gets up and races off, free to make a run to the Liverpool box with only Mignolet to beat! But the referee preposterously blows up for a foul, suggesting Crouch had impeded Agger, who had fallen over in the challenge. A poor decision.
14 min: Coutinho scoops a pass down the inside left to release Sturridge. The striker rounds Begovic, but he's nearly on the byline and can't shoot. He scoops a cross to the far post, but Pieters is on hand to hook away off the line. This could be anything already: 0-1, 1-0, 1-1, 2-0, 3-0. And look at the scoreline! Liverpool versus Stoke City, ladies and gentlemen. It can't continue like this, surely.
13 min: If this ends 0-0, you'll have to wonder why. Aspas wins a corner down the right. Gerrard fires the corner along the corridor of uncertainty. Toure meets it and hammers a majestic header off the bar! The rebound comes off his knee and finds Sturridge at the right-hand post, but the angle's tight, there's not much time, and he blazes over the bar.
11 min: Johnson is feathered to the floor by Etherington, level with the right-hand edge of the Stoke box, 20 yards out. Gerrard whips a free kick into the area, a gorgeous delivery. Sturridge plants a wonderful header into the top left corner, but as quickly as Anfield erupts, the atmosphere deflates. The flag's gone up, and it's a good decision, too, the striker having made his run a split second too soon. A let-off at either end, though.
8 min: Liverpool clear the corner, but Cameron pumps the ball into the area from the right. Mignolet comes out to punch, and flaps in a very nervous style. The ball ends up at the feet of Huth, ten yards out, with the goal totally unguarded. He blooters a shot goalwards - but somehow manages to twang the crossbar in Level 42 slap-bass style, rather than finding the net as he surely should have done. Still, that was a mighty powerful shot, and what an uncertain beginning to Mignolet's Anfield career! You'd say the only way is up, although down is also available.
7 min: Another free kick for Liverpool, Gerrard swinging one in from deep on the right this time. The ball's cleared, but then sent in high again, Walters conceding a corner when challenging Sturridge for a high ball. The corner's hilariously bad, allowing Stoke to break upfield, two on one! Pieters has Walters out on his right, but fudges the pass across, and Agger is able to hoick the ball out on the right for a corner.
5 min: Walters embarks on a determined sortie down the right, heading past Jose Enrique and making good for the box. But the left-back recovers well to overpower Walters and guide the ball out of play for a goal kick. This could be an interesting tussle, not least because Jose Enrique's place will be under serious threat once Brendan Rodgers gets a new man in.
4 min: Sturridge is lurking a lot down the inside-right channel. First Coutinho latches on a loose ball and looks to roll the striker free, then Lucas tries to loop a pass over the Stoke back line, but there's too much weight on it, and though the striker manages to keep the ball in, he can't pull it back to find a man. A lively enough start by the home side, though.
2 min: An early free kick for Liverpool in the midfield. Gerrard pumps it in from the halfway line, just out on the left. Shawcross heads out with purpose. This could become a theme.
And we're off, Liverpool setting the 2013/14 ball rolling! They're kicking towards the Anfield Road end, and will be facing the Kop in the second half, which is exactly how they like it. Although much good it did them last year against Stoke.
The teams are out! A marvellous atmosphere at Anfield, the famous old stadium just about visible through the wind and the rain. You can hear it, though: a belting rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone, with the Stoke fans giving it plenty down the other end. "I'm very glad to see Jordan Henderson's name in the first eleven," writes
Joe Allen Paul Ewart. "Lends ballast to an otherwise lightweight and vulnerable midfield. I've got my tin hat at the ready."
A snapshot of the opening-day mood. The lads on General Post Office Telecommunications Television were just gabbing on about how excited the Anfield crowd will be ahead of the new season, full of hopes and dreams and wonder. Cut to a shot of three Reds standing in a row, stony faced, arms tightly crossed, pensive, nervous and possibly not totally optimistic regarding the minutes and months ahead. A wonderful juxtaposition which perfectly captures the disconnect between the media's excitable jabberings and the more realistic attitudes of the regular matchgoer. It was almost a work of art.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Toure, Agger, Jose Enrique, Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson, Aspas, Sturridge, Coutinho. Subs: Brad Jones, Alberto, Allen, Borini, Sterling, Wisdom, Ibe.
Stoke City: Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Pieters, Whelan, Nzonzi,
Palacios, Wilson, Walters, Crouch, Etherington. Subs: Muniesa, Pennant, Jones, Wilson, Adam, Sorensen, Jerome.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire)
Could the folk at the new General Post Office Telecommunications sports channel have picked a better fixture to feature in their first live Premier League telecast? It's a moot point. Liverpool versus Stoke City did end goalless last year, the third 0-0 draw in the last five stagings of the fixture, a tepid affair enlivened only by Luis Suarez's preposterous belly flop, Robert Huth's twinkletoed Gene Kelly tribute act across Suarez's breastplate, and Tony Pulis buffing his brass neck up to a lovely shine by going def con one regarding the dive, but not bothering to mention his defender's showtunes showpiece. Truth be told, everyone went home from Anfield that day having put on better performances.
Odds on for another goalless draw, then? Ah, but that was then, and this is now. Since that game, Stoke defenestrated Liverpool at the Britannia last Boxing Day. After that, however, they only won three more games all season, before getting shot of Pulis. Mark Hughes is the new gaffer, his remit the imposition of a more expansive style, though he's only bolstered the back line so far with the signing of Erik Pieters. Meanwhile Liverpool finally got their act together in the middle of February, mainly thanks to the introduction of the stunning Phillipe Coutinho, and only lost one of their final 13 fixtures, registering a 4-0, a 5-0 and a 6-0 along the way. So there could be goals today after all, though history suggests only if Liverpool get their act together - they managed a 4-0 in 2009 and a 2-0 in 2011, while Stoke haven't scored at Anfield in the league since 1983, and even then they lost 5-1.
And GPO TV's luck surely can't be any worse than ITV's, back in the day. The first-ever live Football League game, a September 1960 fixture between Blackpool and Bolton Wanderers, was a risible shambles: coverage only started a few minutes before half time, the camera was positioned behind one goal, Stanley Matthews was out injured, nobody scored, nobody watched, and the case for live football on telly was put back 23 years. Oh ITV! How could you! Onwards and upwards, then, which can only be good news for the Setanta Sports de nos jours.
Oh, and in what probably shouldn't be an afterthought, but it is what it is: Hooray for the start of the Premier League season! Hooray! [Corks pop, balloons bounce around, streamers fly, squeals of excitement are squealed, hype is hyped, folk wonder where their lives are headed as the wheel turns yet again, etc.]
Kick off: 12.45pm.