Your star player has to win you the games where you don't play especially well. And Philippe Coutinho did that today.
Just like Brendan Rodgers drew it up, I'm sure.
Look, your concerns are all valid. Liverpool weren't very good. Liverpool's first three shots, the only three in the first half, were all blocked. Liverpool's first shot on-target didn't come until the 63rd, from Dejan Lovren of all players.
Liverpool's quasi 4-3-3, quasi 4-2-3-1 formation, with Henderson usually at the base but also trying to join infrequent attacks, left Benteke isolated, with Ibe often well-marked and Lallana invisible. Liverpool's two new fullbacks were restrained, clearly more focused on solidifying the defense than adding to the attack. It made for a fairly dire opening hour.
This side, for all the new players, clearly remembers the last trip to Stoke. Brendan Rodgers clearly remembers the last trip to Stoke.
Liverpool's priority was to keep it tight, to eliminate the mistakes and Stoke chances which plagued last May's massacre. Maybe sneak a goal, but otherwise keep it level for an hour before gradually opening up the throttle. And that's exactly what happened.
Sure, Stoke had a couple of first half chances, chances better than anything Liverpool created, both cutbacks coming from debutant Joe Gomez's (and Dejan Lovren's) flank. But Adam mis-kicked his opportunity, Glen Johnson skied his. It's about time they started earning all those Liverpool paychecks. So, yes, Liverpool got a little lucky, but on the whole, Liverpool did actually defend well, even on set plays.
The pattern remained the same until just after the hour mark, when Emre Can replaced Lallana. It wasn't the expected Firmino substitution - that'd come 15 minutes later - but Liverpool duly improved because the set-up improved: a more orthodox 4-3-3 with Can holding, allowing both Milner and Henderson to join the attack, Coutinho replacing the irrelevant Lallana on the left.
It didn't immediately result in good chances - Benteke's effort blocked, Skrtel straight at Butland from a set play, Coutinho nowhere close from distance, a couple of openings missed because of a poor final pass - but, for the first time, Liverpool actually looked the better side. Stoke had an immediate set-up play opportunity following the substitution, Adam's deep free kick through everyone, requiring a brilliant save from Mignolet, but otherwise, the home side asked few questions.
Regardless, it looked like the game would ebb away, a deserved but unimpressive 0-0 draw. Until Coutinho happened. O Mágico. It's gonna be hard to top the first goal of the season as the best goal of the season.
It's beyond cliché, but three points is three points is three points. Especially in the first game of the season. Especially at the Britannia, where Liverpool's now won two league matches in eight attempts since Stoke's promotion in 2008-09. Two wins (the other, you may remember, in 2013-14), two draws, and four losses. Especially after last May's meeting.
Would I have preferred a more-attacking Liverpool, a Liverpool that did more to try to win the game? Absolutely. Football should be fun, even if it's often not. Liverpool's problems in attack, especially in the first half, were far too reminiscent of last season's struggles.
But Liverpool's caution was understandable. Liverpool's dissonance in attack, with so many new players, was understandable.
All told, this match looked an awful lot like the preseason matches, albeit against better competition. That admittedly won't be enough to achieve this season's goals. But it'll do for now.