Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers praised his team’s character after they banished the memories of last season’s thrashing against Stoke by winning 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday. Liverpool suffered their heaviest-ever Premier League defeat when going down 6-1 to Mark Hughes’s side on the final day of last season.
However, the tables were reversed this time around as Philippe Coutinho’s late strike handed the visitors a winning start to the new campaign.
And Rodgers was delighted with how well his team defended as they kept a clean sheet, just three months after shipping six goals for the first time in the Premier League.
“I was pleased with both the performance and result today,” he said. “I think we showed a different type of will and character than last time we were here.
“We defended really, really well with good organisation and we knew that if we could hold the game and stay tight, as the game wore on then obviously our quality could come through. And it worked perfectly for us and I thought the players were outstanding.”
Rodgers did concede, though, that there was an element of luck to Liverpool’s winning goal, with the Reds boss about to substitute Coutinho just seconds before his winner.
“He has only come back into the fold a lot later than the others,” Rodgers said. “We changed his positions, he started centrally, and you obviously want to keep him on the pitch for as long as possible.
“But we felt that maybe towards the end of the game Glen [Johnson] was going forward more – and he is good at getting forward – and we were losing out defensively on that side. And you try and leave it for as long as you can, as he has that magic.
“What a goal though – his body work to turn out Stevey Sidwell, who is a really strong player, and to get away and hit the strike at that late stage of the game, and the first game, was a wonderful, wonderful goal.”
The Liverpool coach also spoke highly of new £32.5m signing Christian Benteke after the Belgian’s competitive debut for the club, despite the striking not scoring.
“I thought Christian was outstanding,” said Rodgers. “He showed all the elements of his game today: his touch, hold-up play, movement in behind. He always really occupies a back four, on his own at times, and it is important to have that ability to be unpredictable.”
Rodgers, however, refused to get carried away with Liverpool’s victory, even though it came on a ground where they have traditionally tended to struggle in the Premier League era.
“We still have a lot of work to do with the new players coming in, but certainly today was a great start for us. It is only the first game of the season and there is still a hell of a long way to go,” he added.
“We had to come here and put on a performance and win. It is difficult to come to Stoke at any time and win, but to come on the back of where we were last season really shows you the character and personality now in the team.
“It was a great victory, but it is way, way too early – I always say assess it after 10 games and see how the table looks then. It is a big win for us, but we also know that it is tough for our opponents as well. Once we click into gear and get our game going as well, then we will be a difficult team to play against.
“Firstly after a long preseason it is always good to get a good performance and result in your first game, and we did that, so there is development still left in the team. But today we are absolutely delighted and we will work hard now and get ready for Bournemouth.”