Liverpool's revenge served up with lethal Philippe Coutinho finish
It would, quite frankly, have taken only the briefest daub of colour on the canvas of this bleakest of games to give us something by which to remember the day, but in the end, Philippe Coutinho scored a winning goal that should endure right through to the end-of-season montages in May and beyond.
Bravo to the little Brazilian who scored the kind of goal on 86 minutes that did not just remind us what it is we appreciate about a game that has been in abeyance for the past two months but gave some kind of narrative to an afternoon badly lacking a theme. Up until then, this match had all the charm of a day spent in traffic on the A50, and then Liverpool's No 10 intervened with a shot of power and surprise.
Before then, Brendan Rodgers' side had cautiously confronted the legacy of that 6-1 defeat at the Britannia Stadium 11 weeks previously which they, and their manager in particular, have had all summer to ruminate upon. The away team were understandably eager that the same fate did not befall them again and while they defended considerably better than that fateful day in May, there was not much to be said about them going forward.
As for Stoke manager Mark Hughes, there was the bitterness at being beaten by the kind of shot he would hit in the best of his playing days. He made some quietly scathing comments afterwards about the amount Liverpool have spent this summer and the quality one might expect to get for that price. He complained about some of the decisions by the referee, Anthony Taylor, but for all that it did look like he had settled for a draw from 20 minutes out.
Coutinho tore up that possibility with a quite wonderful goal. He was not even facing goal when he took the ball from Joe Gomez, from the left side, rolled off the challenge from the substitute Steven Sidwell, and lashed a shot from 30 yards with such fearsome power that it went through Jack Butland's grasp rather than beyond it.
A great goal from a player who could be great one day, and goodness knows Liverpool need one in the post Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling era.
You could tell by the way Coutinho's team-mates were unwilling to let him go without adding their own personal thanks, just how much it meant to them. As the survivors from last season tried to exorcise that 6-1 defeat here, the four new boys in the first XI did their best in unfamiliar circumstances. The end result was a struggle to put it all together.
At left-back, the 18-year-old Gomez did not look out of place and he earned high praise from his manager. In attack, Liverpool struggled to release Christian Benteke on goal yet he spent the game a frustrated figure, looking to break off the back of a Stoke defence that handled him quite comfortably.
Nevertheless, Liverpool got there in the end, although in the first half in particular it was hard to see how they might do it. For all Stoke's hard work in midfield it should also be said they had few decent chances on goal.
Stoke: Butland, Johnson, Cameron, Muniesa, Pieters, van Ginkel, Whelan, Walters, Adam, Afellay, Diouf. Subs: Ireland, Odemwingie (Afellay, 78 mins), Joselu, Sidwell (Adam, 79 mins), Given, Crouch, Wollscheid (Pieters, 46 mins).
Liverpool: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Skrtel, Gomez, Henderson, Milner, Ibe, Coutinho, Lallana, Benteke. Subs: Toure, Firmino (Ibe, 78 mins), Moreno, Can (Lallana, 63 mins), Origi, Ings, Bogdan.
Man of the match: Philippe Coutinho
Match rating: 4/10
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)