Stoke City 0
Liverpool 1 Coutinho 86'
There's no reason to bury the main storyline here: Philippe Coutinho earned a 1-0 win with one of the best strikes of his young career -- a bending rocket shot from outside the box in the 86th minute. It was a world class goal for a player hungry to prove that he belongs in the conversation with the very best creative midfielders in the world. So that was fun.
There were also less fun aspects of the game. Like the 89 minutes and 57 seconds that Coutinho wasn't hitting a screamer into the top corner. Initial team selection doomed Liverpool to a dull first 45 that they could never quite push on from, and this could have easily been another 0-0 at the Britannia.
Jordan Henderson and James Milner formed a double pivot at the base of the Liverpool midfield that predictably struggled. Both players are at their best when deployed as energetic midfield runners, but without any cover they were forced to sit back in the defensive midfield.
With Henderson and Milner unable to drive the ball forward, Liverpool were forced to build attacks down the right wing, which didn't really work because by the fifth minute Stoke figured out the plan and swarmed Jordon Ibe every time he touched the ball. The left wing was mostly empty, as Adam Lallana shifted inside and then stood there for a while until Emre Can mercifully replaced him in the second half.
Meanwhile, Christian Benteke received little service and was unable to make much of an impact on the game.
Liverpool's defense held strong despite a rather unusual amount of possession for Stoke, and the Reds looked good enough to claim at least a draw the whole way. That doesn't sound too exciting but consider that the left side of Liverpool's defense was Dejan Lovren and an 18-year-old making his Premier League debut.
Brendan Rodgers made two second half substitutions that turned the match in Liverpool's favor. Can came on for Lallana and entered the central midfield, allowing Henderson and Milner to push further forward. This strengthened Liverpool in the middle and pushed Stoke back into their own half. Rodgers also brought on Roberto Firmino late, and the Brazilian playmaker looked dangerous in his cameo. It's a bit curious that Can didn't start the match and Firmino barely played at all, but after seeing how those two influenced the match perhaps Rodgers will bring them into the team next weekend.
Winning at Stoke to kick off the new season is a brilliant result and a huge boost for a team with even trickier fixtures looming. Most afternoons at the Britannia turn out much worse than this (or so it seems), and with a couple of tactical adjustments before next week's clash with Bournemouth, a performance to match the result could be forthcoming.