LONDON • In the end everything came together for Liverpool yesterday. But this was a curious way to win three Premier League points, as Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino came off the bench to breathe fresh life into a team who had been sleepwalking towards defeat.
On another day they would be called inspired substitutions and Jurgen Klopp would take the credit, although on this occasion it seemed more pertinent to ask why two players who were fit enough to be named as substitutes were unable to make the starting XI.
From Liverpool's point of view, the main thing is that they won an awkward game 2-1 at Stoke, showing character to come from behind to punish the hosts, who are in danger of being dragged into a relegation scrap.
Coutinho hauled Liverpool level after Jonathan Walters had put Stoke ahead in the first half, and his fellow Brazilian Firmino completed the turnaround two minutes later with a goal of the highest quality.
It was just the response that Klopp was looking for on the back of Wednesday's 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth.
Third-placed Liverpool held on to move nine points clear of fifth and sixth-placed Arsenal and Manchester United, both of whom have three games in hand on Klopp's side.
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As for Stoke, who lie 13th in the table, they have now lost their last four league matches and have a couple of critical games to come, against Hull at home and Swansea away.
At the Etihad Stadium, a vastly improved second-half performance by Raheem Sterling was the key to Manchester City's emphatic 3-1 victory over Hull, with the winger staying out wide to find space on the right where his pace swiftly provided the penetration that had previously been lacking.
City ended a four-game winless run in the Premier League with a comfortable victory that boosted their hopes of finishing in a Champions League spot. They lie fourth on 61 points, two behind Liverpool. City are seven points ahead of Arsenal and United, who have played two games fewer.
Ahmed Elmohamady's own goal opened the scoring before half- time, as the Hull defender turned in Jesus Navas' dangerous low cross.
Sterling then set up Sergio Aguero and the Argentinian's powerful effort squeezed past Eldin Jakupovic.
The Hull goalkeeper had no chance from City's third, with Fabian Delph allowed time and space to lash in from outside the box.
Andrea Ranocchia did pull one back late on, as Claudio Bravo let a weak effort trickle past him.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS