LONDON • For 85 minutes, this was a back-to-basics kind of performance from Liverpool, back at the scene of last season's English Premier League humiliation, but Philippe Coutinho simply does not deal in basics.
His goal on Sunday was typical of his particular brand of football sorcery - a spectacular, audacious piece of improvisation entirely out of keeping with the drudgery that had gone before.
The Brazilian's party piece - a characteristic turn, followed by a shot that curled and dipped beyond Jack Butland in the Stoke City goal - turned a satisfying afternoon for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool into a rewarding one as they won 1-0.
Eleven weeks after Rodgers and his players endured a walk of shame to the players' tunnel, in front of their supporters, this time they were enthusiastically cheered off.
This was nothing like the kind of expansive football that was associated with Liverpool in Rodgers' first two seasons in charge, but the third campaign was so disappointing, culminating in that calamitous 6-1 defeat at the Britannia Stadium, that he was delighted by the more prosaic qualities that underpinned this performance.
To get a win here, after where we were 11 weeks ago, I thought it was an outstanding collective performance.
BRENDAN RODGERS, Liverpool manager, pointing out that the 6-1 thumping last May was a one-off
"It certainly feels better than 11 weeks ago," the Liverpool manager said afterwards. "That (the 6-1 defeat last May) was a one-off game, a unique game really. I knew it was a one-off, but it still happened and you have to be better and be more resolute.
"That was our work over the course of pre-season, making sure that our defensive organisation and our pressing were better.
"The supporters at this club, the minimum they want to see is effort and commitment. They've seen that today.
"To get a win here, after where we were 11 weeks ago, I thought it was an outstanding collective performance."
Rodgers was also satisfied with the performances of his debutants, and the resolve they showed.
"The players we have brought in have that character," he said. "Christian Benteke up front, you saw his quality, his movement, his strength his power and that ability in the air. He was outstanding.
"Joe Gomez, 18 years of age, playing against a really good player in Jonathan Walters and as the game went on he got stronger. Nathaniel Clyne has been outstanding since he came in and James Milner has that experience."
"Outstanding" would be pushing it, but it was certainly more resolute.
Their back four - Nathaniel Clyne, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren and Gomez - was far more compact than last season.
Lovren, so erratic last term, finally showed something of his Southampton form, even if Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager, was entitled to question Anthony Taylor's decision to show a yellow card, rather than red, when the defender elbowed Mame Biram Diouf in the second half.
Hughes felt that Stoke deserved a point. They were by far the more impressive team in the first half, with Marco van Ginkel and Ibrahim Affelay making encouraging contributions, but they did not do quite enough to expose any sense of vulnerability in the opposition ranks.
"The referee thought it was a yellow card for an elbow. If that is the case, he was fortunate not to get a red," said Hughes.
"But we're not disappointed with our performance. Sometimes when you are up against the top teams a moment of brilliance like the one from Coutinho takes the game away from you."
THE TIMES, LONDON,