Lots of reasons for Liverpool to be positive, areas to improve, but overwhelming relief

Paisley Gateway

Even after just one game, some pressure has been relieved at Liverpool following their 1-0 win over Stoke City.

Two points ahead of Chelsea, three ahead of Arsenal - if Liverpool were offered that before the weekend for 6pm yesterday evening, they certainly will have taken it, especially after visiting the scene of the 6-1 humiliation two and a half months ago.

The most pleasing thing for Liverpool was the fact they went toe-to-toe with Stoke City early on. It would have been easy to shy away given what happened in May, but there was a determination from Liverpool.

Though it may not have been the most eye-catching game they were aggressive in their pressing, prepared to battle in the middle of the park, and weren't afraid to give away the odd free-kick in order to retain their defensive shape - something which has been a personal gripe, as I've wanted Liverpool to be that bit more cynical in the middle of the park. 

One thing that is quite clear - and was even before kick off - is the movement and link up play in the final third of the field. There was a huge change to the back end of the warm-up [which may have been influenced by the new recruits on the coaching staff], which saw the Reds drill several attacking moves. One or two of them struggled to come off there, just like in the game, but given more time together that can all come together. 

The midfield three that lined up wasn't surprising, but what was fascinating was that James Milner and Jordan Henderson were sitting in a deeper role until the introduction of Emre Can. The aggression and pressing they offered meant that as a unit Liverpool were solid.

But the most pleasing aspect for Liverpool has to be their defence. Dejan Lovren actually looked like the centre-back who was brought in to organise the defence, Nathaniel Clyne had a fine debut while Joe Gomez didn't take a step back against a Potters outfit that targeted the teenager. One other thing to note was that Lovren seemed to relish guiding Gomez through the difficult moments he had in the game.

In terms of Liverpool's season, is it too big a statement to say this is the biggest win of Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool career so far? Possibly not. The start that Liverpool were dealt when it came to their away fixtures was horrid, and to get a first win on the board early on is vital. The relief among those that packed the away end yesterday was there for all to see, and the Reds boss looked that little bit taller than when he emerged as he strode town the tunnel after the final whistle. 

Of course, there is much work ahead. Players still need integrating, and big names such as Mamadou Sakho and Lucas Leiva were omitted from the entire matchday squad shows the degree of options at their disposal, and it will be interesting to see how the side is managed when the Europa League gets underway.

Now they need to back things up when they host Bournemouth next Monday. But the atmosphere heading into that game at Anfield is likely to be very different to what many will have thought in May. 

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