Belfast Telegraph

James Milner in awe after Coutinho's touch of class

By Andy Hampson

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.

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."

Meanwhile, summer signing Roberto Firmino scored a hat-trick in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Welsh club TNS at the club's training ground yesterday.

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 slender victory at Stoke City.

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