Liverpool’s much-anticipated return to a new-look Anfield did not disappoint with a 4-1 win over Premier League champions Leicester.
It was a lively performance in the shadow of their gigantic, rebuilt £115million main stand as the early stages of the Foxes’ defence of their title continued to stutter.
A second defeat in four league matches, having lost just three times last season on the way to their unexpected trophy, was not the preparation they would have wanted heading into a Champions League debut against Club Brugge on Wednesday.
Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane gave the home side a deserved 2-0 lead before a shambolic moment of madness saw Lucas Leiva pass to Jamie Vardy in the six-yard box and briefly change the tone.
However, Adam Lallana’s third goal for club and country in six matches, having taken until January to reach that mark last season, and a late second for Firmino ensured the celebratory atmosphere did not fall flat.
On Friday chairman Tom Werner hailed the start of a new chapter at the stand’s official opening and Anfield hosted its first match in 122 days in front of its first 50,000-plus attendance since a title-clinching win over Aston Villa in 1980 – when the Kop was still standing-only.
50 – @LFC have scored more Premier League goals in 2016 than any other team (50). Prolific.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 10, 2016
There was a feeling of freshness in the hosts’ play despite the interruption of an international break and with Daniel Sturridge restored to a central striking role – Philippe Coutinho was left on the bench after a long trip back from Brazil – Liverpool had someone who could stretch the champions’ tight defence.
It was the distraction of his diagonal run into the Foxes’ right-back area which opened up the channel for James Milner to thread a pass in to Firmino on the edge of the penalty area in the 13th minute, and he checked onto his right foot and shot past Kasper Schmeichel for the opener.
A sharp one-two between Mane and Adam Lallana saw Sturridge’s close-range shot saved but it was 2-0 when Jordan Henderson’s brilliant first-time pass sliced open the Leicester defence and Sturridge was onto it in a flash, his backheel teeing up Mane for his third goal since arriving for £30million in the summer.
Anfield was rocking as the team played with the type of swagger Jurgen Klopp had demanded of his players in order to inject some life into the now 54,000-capacity stadium.
But that confidence was eliminated with one heavy touch from the boot of Lucas six minutes before the interval.
The midfielder, making his first appearance of the season and in an unfamiliar centre-back role due to Dejan Lovren’s eye injury, received a short goal-kick but panicked under pressure from Shinji Okazaki, lost control and stabbed the ball back across the six-yard box where Vardy could barely believe his luck.
When Robert Huth’s header looped onto the crossbar it was apparent it was going to take more than a brand new stand to change the same old Liverpool.
Schmeichel’s chest twice denied Sturridge either side of half-time – once when the goalkeeper was 15 yards outside his area – but he was powerless to prevent Lallana’s thunderbolt 12 minutes into the second half.
Mignolet produced his first save of note with his legs to deny Vardy – again from a Liverpool mistake – and Henderson failed to put the result beyond doubt when he blazed over from 12 yards.
But Firmino completed the job with the simplest of goals after Schmeichel ran 40 yards out of his area to tackle the irrepressible Mane and missed.