Reds give Suarez plenty to ponder

Liverpool 1 Stoke City 0

Reds give Suarez plenty to ponder

Should the truce with Luis Suarez, who is appearing to accept he will not be sold this summer, prove to be lasting, relatively at least, and another attacking midfielder and a centre-back arrive, there are reasons for optimism here.

But any positivity gleaned from winning a game they would have drawn in the past two seasons will evaporate quickly enough if this is the squad that will be tasked with attempting to avoid the exile from the Champions League stretching into a fifth season.

As he enters his second season in charge, Brendan Rodgers now accepts that expectation dictates that he must reach the top four without the financial muscle of those above, who have now been outspending Liverpool for several years.

And aside from Suarez’s attempts to force his way out of the club, this summer has proved a brutal reminder of where Liverpool are now viewed on the world stage.

The Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan was Rodgers’ primary transfer target but apparently never showed a flicker of interest in moving to Anfield before leaving Shakhtar Donetsk for Borussia Dortmund, in a situation not unlike United’s failed pursuit of Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas.

It remains to be seen whether Anzhi’s Willian is just another using the grand old name as a stalking horse to attract others.

But should those additions be made and Suarez reintegrates himself, taking fourth spot, and resolving the issues that have led him to want to move, may not be such a ridiculous proposition.

Kolo Toure looks a surprisingly decent free transfer, the forward Iago Aspas, signed from Celta Vigo, impressed with his movement and link play with Daniel Sturridge, while keeper Simon Mignolet recovered from an anxious start to save Jonathan Walters’ late penalty.

Rodgers’ January captures, Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, also continue to flourish. Sturridge retains a liking to blind alleys and at times his selfishness is misplaced but his sharpness and willingness to shoot early will always cause problems, while Coutinho has been a revelation since joining from Inter, popping up and probing all over the place.

They may be some distance away from where they believe their natural place is but the progress since the 3-0 defeat at West Brom in Rodgers’ first game last season is clear.

Rodgers said: “It was very different. I still remember someone asking should Liverpool be losing 3-0 to West Brom. That was one of the shouts. I never forget! It is a great feeling but I sensed it.

“We’ve got better. We have improved, but there’s a big job to do here. We are having to sell players to gain money to get players in and we are trying to balance all of that while trying to progress.

“I just felt in the changing room beforehand, and some of the staff said it as well, there was a different feeling this year with more camaraderie, spirit and togetherness.

“They were all very pleased afterwards. Listen, we haven’t won the World Cup. We’ve won a game but we know this is a big three points.”

With Stoke’s Robert Huth and Toure already having hit the woodwork, Sturridge thumped in from just outside the area to settle any nerves in the opening period.

But despite some fine football, Stoke were not killed off by a second goal, largely thanks to outstanding goalkeeping by Asmir Begovic.

And when Daniel Agger handled late on, Stoke were given the opportunity to snatch a point for new manager Mark Hughes, only for Walters to send his penalty right and to see yet another spot-kick saved by Mignolet.

“It’s going to take a bit more time but we’ve got to win football matches,” Begovic said. “We need to work and learn on the go and put the stuff we’ve learned into games and get results.”

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Mignolet 7; Johnson 7, Toure 8, Agger 7, Enrique 7; Henderson 7, Lucas 6, Gerrard 7, Coutinho 8; Sturridge 9, Aspas 7 (Sterling 72).

Subs not used: Jones; Alberto, Allen, Borini, Ibe, Wisdom

STOKE (4-5-1): Begovic 9; Cameron 5, Huth 6, Shawcross 6, Pieters 7; Walters 6, Wilson 5, Nzonzi 5, Whelan 5 (Adam 63, 6), Etherington 6 (Pennant 63, 5); Crouch 6 (Jones 81, 5).

Subs not used: Sorensen, Muniesa, Jerome, Wilkinson.

Referee: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire).

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