STOKE-ON-TRENT, August 9- Philippe Coutinho scored a stunning late goal as Liverpool avenged their humiliating defeat on last season’s final day against Stoke City with a 1-0 victory on Sunday.
The Reds were thrashed 6-1 — their heaviest defeat in 52 years — at the Britannia Stadium 77 days ago, but made partial amends for that loss with a hard-fought win in their opening Premier League fixture on the same ground.
Neither goalkeeper had a meaningful save to make in the match, which appeared to be destined to end in a goalless draw.
But with four minutes left Brazil international Coutinho, one of five survivors from that capitulation in May, gave Liverpool the points with a sublime long-range effort.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers gave debuts to four of his close-season signings, with Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez in at full-back, James Milner in midfield and striker Christian Benteke leading the line.
The Potters handed first starts to winger Ibrahim Afellay, midfielder Marco van Ginkel and ex-Liverpool defender Glen Johnson.
Both sides prodded and probed for signs of weakness in the opening 20 minutes.
A miscued shot from Mame Biram Diouf and a sliced effort from Charlie Adam were the best that Stoke could manage, while the visitors showed neat build-up play with Coutinho’s clever runs at the heart of their attacking forays.
Stoke, who were watched in the stands by Inter Milan playmaker Xherdan Shaqiri amid reports of a loan move, opened up the Liverpool defence just after the half-hour mark.
– Firmino entrance –
From Van Ginkel’s cross Afellay saw his volleyed effort blocked by Clyne, with Johnson unable to capitalise on the loose ball as he lifted his effort from near the penalty spot over the crossbar.
Liverpool centre-back Dejan Lovren was fortunate to only escape with a yellow card shortly after the break when his elbow caught Diouf as the pair challenged for a high ball.
Rodgers withdrew the ineffective Adam Lallana for Emre Can just after the hour, but it was Stoke who at that stage looked the most likely to break the deadlock.
Indeed, Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet did well to tip a dangerous curling free-kick from Adam around the post, as Diouf lurked with intent, before the visitors built some momentum of their own.
Coutinho stole the ball on the edge of the box, but it was pinched back off him, while Benteke subsequently saw his first real effort of the game blocked.
With 15 minutes left Can played an intelligent through-ball for Benteke to chase, only for a combination of Marc Wilson and Geoff Cameron to deny the former Aston Villa man a chance to shoot.
Rodgers gave the visiting supporters their first glimpse of the Brazil attacker Roberto Firmino, but it was his compatriot who provided the game’s standout moment.
In the 86th minute, Coutinho spun away from Stoke substitute Steve Sidwell and ran at goal before unleashing an unstoppable shot from 30 yards that flew over the despairing dive of Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland and into the net.