Liverpool 4 Stoke 0
Liverpool put the misery of their opening day defeat at Tottenham firmly behind them with a convincing victory over Stoke at Anfield.
Last season Tony Pulis’ men grabbed a 0-0 draw in this corresponding fixture, one of the results boss Rafael Benitez maintains cost Liverpool the title.
This time around there was no mistake. Steven Gerrard created two of the goals and new boy Glen Johnson had an outstanding game surging down the right at will.
Benitez bought Johnson, he claimed, to provided that extra adventure in difficult home games. And the England defender underlined just what his new manager meant.
He scored a close range goal on half-time on his home debut, to add to Fernando Torres’ fourth-minute opener, and aided Gerrard’s advance to set up the third for Dirk Kuyt.
Johnson’s run and cross in injury-time presented substitute David Ngog with the fourth to cap an outstanding home debut for the new full-back.
Spanish youngster Daniel Ayala made his full Liverpool debut, with Martin Skrtel failing to recover from a damaged jaw sustained in Saturday’s defeat at Spurs.
Ayala, 18, came on as a substitute at White Hart Lane for the injured Skrtel for his first senior appearance for Liverpool.
Yossi Benayoun replaced Ryan Babel, while Stoke made two changes from the side that beat Burnley – Glenn Whelan and Richard Cresswell replacing Liam Lawrence and Ricardo Fuller as Pulis reverted to a more defensive system.
Liverpool fans’ group, the Spirit of Shankly, organised a mass distribution of red cards ahead of the game to be waved by supporters protesting at the George Gillett-Tom Hicks ownership of the club.
Resentment runs deep at Anfield at the financial mess the club are in and Benitez’s limited transfer budget.
But it was his record signing, Torres, who struck quickly to give the Reds the lead.
Lucas Leiva had seen a skidding 20-yarder held by Thomas Sorensen before Liverpool were ahead after just four minutes.
Gerrard burst through on the right to pull the ball back for his Spanish side-kick to drill past a helpless Sorensen.
Dean Whitehead was booked for an ugly 12th-minute foul on Javier Mascherano and Liverpool should have been two goals up when they broke at pace from their own box.
Torres racing away on the right to fire over a cross that full-back Emiliano Insua sidefooted inches wide having made the same high-speed run down the other flank.
But Stoke maintained their determination and organisation, with Liverpool trying to hit them on the break. Much of the hosts’ adventure was coming through Johnson.
Kuyt and Torres had shots saved and from a 44th minute corner they struck again. Kuyt’s low header was blocked by Sorensen on the line and the ball fell for £17million signing Johnson to hook home from six yards.
Stoke came out after the break determined to get back into the game. A string of dangerous corners resulted in Jose Reina making an outstanding save to his right to keep out a fierce Delap drive.
Johnson then had to clear on the far post as a James Beattie cross-shot fizzed across the area.
But Liverpool increased the tempo of their game and were running at Stoke from all angles.
Gerrard fired in a 20-yard effort which Sorensen blocked, with Johnson now attacking down the right at every opportunity.
The Reds threatened to run away with things as Torres saw a lofted shot saved and Johnson cut into the box again to force Sorensen into a low save.
The third goal arrived after 78 minutes, with Johnson sending Gerrard into the box with a clever pass. The Liverpool captain powered on to drill in a low cross which Kuyt slid past Sorensen from close range.
Liverpool sent on Andriy Voronin and Albert Riera for Gerrard and Kuyt with nine minutes left, then three minutes later Ngog replaced Torres.
And it was Ngog who headed home from under the bar after another fine run and cross from Johnson had deflected into his path in injury-time.