Milner marvels at Coutinho's moment of brilliance
JAMES MILNER was pleased to be on the right side of a Philippe Coutinho stunner as the Brazilian launched Liverpool's Premier League season in spectacular fashion at Stoke.
Coutinho struck from 30 yards with just four minutes remaining as the Reds snatched a 1-0 victory from an otherwise drab contest at the Britannia Stadium. It was yet another example of the 23-year-old's deadly accuracy from long range after striking a number from distance last season.
One of those goals last term was a brilliant winner from the edge of the box against Milner's former club Manchester City at Anfield in March - opponents he also sank the previous year.
Milner said: "I obviously saw him do it a few times last year, so to do it when he is on my team is nicer.
"That is what the game needed. It was a tough game, it was a battle. I thought we defended really well and it was going to take a moment of brilliance to win the game and we managed to get that."
Until Coutinho's late intervention, the game appeared to be drifting towards a goalless draw. Both sides struggled to create opportunities, although Stoke had threatened to finish with a flourish as Marco van Ginkel had a shot blocked by Martin Skrtel and Mame Biram Diouf headed narrowly wide. Coutinho, whose previous effort moments earlier had flown well over the bar, then took charge with a run and strike that helped bury memories of Liverpool's nightmare 6-1 thrashing on the same ground in May.
It was not a pretty performance but, after a difficult summer, that was less important than the result. Manager Brendan Rodgers needs to stabilise the team after the high-profile losses of Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard, changes to the backroom staff and the arrival of six new players. The biggest positive was the performance of the back four, with centre-backs Dejan Lovren and Skrtel looking solid and new signings Nathaniel Clyne and Joe Gomez starting strongly.
Milner, signed on a free transfer from City, said: "The boys showed great character. It is never an easy place to come, especially first game of the season. Any time you can walk away with three points from here is a great result.
"I think we have got a lot of quality going forward, but I think a lot of credit goes to the whole team. I think the boys at the back were brilliant."
Stoke were unfortunate not to take at least a point from the game and will find encouraging signs when they analyse their performance.
On-loan Chelsea midfielder Van Ginkel, who looked composed on debut, said: "I think, especially in the first half, we did well, we created some chances.
"In the last six minutes, they scored a wonderful goal, but I think we deserved more. We lost, but hopefully we can win a lot of games. The quality is there in the team. We have to work hard and the focus is on Tottenham now."
Meanwhile, one of Liverpool's summer signings, Roberto Firmino, scored a hat-trick in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Welsh club TNS at the club's training ground on Monday. The Brazil international is some weeks behind most of his team-mates in terms of fitness, having joined pre-season late because of his participation in the Copa America.
Firmino was given his competitive debut with a 12-minute outing in Sunday's 1-0 Premier League win at Stoke - but manager Brendan Rodgers felt the 23-year-old, signed from Hoffenheim for an initial £22million with a potential £7million of add-ons, and other players short on match practice needed extra work. Those included Liverpool's other goalscorers in a 5-1 win - Danny Ings and Lazar Markovic.
Emre Can, who also returned to Melwood later after playing in the European U21 Championships but played for 27 minutes at the Britannia Stadium, also featured along with Adam Bogdan, Lucas Leiva, Alberto Moreno, Divock Origi, Jordan Rossiter, Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure.