Even in the biting cold this was a performance to make Jurgen Klopp sweat, but in the end he will have been warmed by a win that keeps Liverpool in step with the Champions League race.
Liverpool had clear opportunities to make this a more comfortable evening against difficult opponents but ultimately they were fortunate to play 50 minutes with all 11.
Simon Mignolet should have seen red before half-time for taking out Mame Biram Diouf as the last man and had the law been applied a much-changed Liverpool may have buckled to some serious Stoke pressure.
Mohamed Salah curls the ball under Lee Grant to tie up all three points and continue his red hot goal scoring run
The Egyptian kept his nerve in the one-on-one position after being played through and soon sewed up the contest
Alberto Moreno celebrates with the in-form winger, who has been unstoppable for Liverpool in recent weeks
Liverpool players make the familiar march over to mob Salah and celebrate his latest goal in his new club’s colours
Salah came off the bench and didn’t waste much time before linking up with Mane and lashing home a powerful volley
The Egyptian celebrated with arms aloft in front of the adoring Liverpool supporters at the Britannia
Sadio Mane opened the scoring after latching on to Dominic Solanke’s pass and dinking the ball over goalkeeper Lee Grant
The pacey winger looks on as the ball chips over Grant and makes its way towards the back of the Stoke goal
But Liverpool survived, holding onto the slender lead gained early on when Sadio Mane scored his first Premier League goal since August, and then adding to it late on.
In the 77th minute Mane did superbly to wriggle free and chip a cross back to Mohamed Salah, who had only just arrived as a substitute but continued his hot streak by thumping in a volley for his 16th goal of the season.
Salah then scored his 17th in with seven minutes left, nicking a long ball ahead of Erik Pieters and finishing coolly.
As oddly as it sounds given the scoreline, Stoke possibly deserved something from the game for their persistence, but now Saturday’s visit by relegation rivals Swansea takes on extra significance for Mark Hughes. Stoke are edging towards the drop zone and cannot afford to be beaten.
MATCH FACTS, LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCH ZONE
STOKE: Grant, Zouma, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters, Fletcher, Allen, Shaqiri, Choupo-Moting (Jese 74min), Diouf, Crouch
SUBS UNUSED: Haugaard, Wimmer, Berahino, Jese, Afellay, Adam, Ramadan
BOOKED: Martins Indi
LIVERPOOL: Mignolet, Gomez, Matip, Lovren, Moreno, Can, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Milner 66min), Mane, Firmino, Solanke (Salah 66min)
SUBS UNUSED: Karius, Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Coutinho, Sturridge
BOOKED: Mignolet, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Can, Mane
GOALS: Mane, Salah x2
REFEREE: Martin Atkinson
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A plentiful build-up saw Sadio Mane get Liverpool off the mark. For more stats and facts, visit our exclusive MATCH ZONE service by clickinghere.
Having rested Mane and Roberto Firmino for Saturday’s visit by Chelsea, Klopp this time put Philippe Coutinho and Salah on the bench.
It is an embarrassment of riches indeed when Liverpool can bank such quality for a rainy stage in a game.
Captain Jordan Henderson also dropped out while Dominic Solanke was handed his first Premier League start nearly three weeks after his first England call-up.
It was six changes in all by Klopp and told of a manager who has learned much from last winter, when his players failed to maintain pace into the second part of the campaign.
Mane prepares to wheel away in celebration after breaking the deadlock as Grant looks on with a face of anguish
Mane celebrates with assist provider Solanke after getting his name onto the score sheet
The Senegalese star points across to his team-mates who soon rush over to join in on the celebrations
Simon Mignolet punches the air with delight as Mane’s effort goes in and celebrates with the travelling Liverpool fans
Hughes only made two changes to the team that lost in stoppage time at Crystal Palace. Bruno Martins Indi replaced Kevin Wimmer at the back and up front there was a first start of the season for Peter Crouch, who signed a new contract to 2019 on Tuesday.
As Stoke’s top scorer with four goals the 36-year-old deserved his place from the off and Liverpool, as his former club, seemed an apt opponent.
The thinking was to test Liverpool’s maligned backline from an aerial route but in the 17th minute it was Stoke’s defence who badly erred along the ground.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fed an overlapping Joe Gomez and just as the ball rolled across the byline the young defender found a cross.
Much to their fault, some in Stoke colours stopped and appealed for a goal-kick. But no flag was forthcoming. Instead Solanke found Mane with a cute pass and the Senegal forward deftly chipped Lee Grant to score.
Never shy in coming forwards, the home fans voiced their displeasure as half a dozen Stoke players protested to assistant referee Stephen Child. But replays showed that while extremely close, the whole of the ball had not crossed the line and the officiating was accurate. Regardless, Stoke should have played to the whistle and may have been able to halt Liverpool had they done so.
A dejected Kurt Zouma looks on as his side go a goal behind at the Britannia Stadium
Liverpool fans roar after seeing their side get its nose in front, while flares erupt in the away end
Emre Can battles for possession of the ball with Mame Diouf in the Stoke City area
Referee Martin Atkinson waves away Stoke appeals for Simon Mignolet to be sent off after the ‘keeper gave a free-kick away
Player surround referee Atkinson has Diouf lies on the turf (right) after being floored by the onrushing Mignolet
Despite aggressive protestations the referee opts to book Mignolet as opposed to directly sending off the Reds goalkeeper
Stoke responded and put Liverpool under pressure but Solanke had the chance to double his team’s lead after a slick move of his own creation. The 20-year-old spun Ryan Shawcross when collecting a sharp pass and applied a backheel that Firmino then returned. In the clear, Solanke shot hard but Grant got down well to hold.
Stoke were punching their own though, sending jitters among Liverpool’s defenders with direct play, and should have been facing ten men from the 39th minute.
Biram Diouf reached a bouncing ball quicker than Joel Matip and nudged it round an onrushing Mignolet, who then took out the Stoke player with a loose leg. It was outside the box but Diouf would have had an easy tap-in and the red card should have followed. Gomez was there but not close enough to interfere.
Martin Atkinson inexplicably showed Mignolet only a yellow however and all those associated with Stoke, already riled by a sense of injustice, now had a vindicated reason to complain loudly. ‘If he plays for Stoke, he gets sent off,’ the home fans chanted.
Xherdan Shaqiri’s free-kick deflected just wide and Mignolet, seemingly affected, was all at sea at the resulting corner.
As Stoke smoldered, Liverpool should have made it two just before the break. Solanke rolled in Mane, who broke the offside trap to run clear. But with plenty of time and space Mane scuffed his finish slightly and hit the post.
Hughes had switched from a back-three to 4-4-2 on the half hour and the duo of Diouf and Crouch in attack continued to trouble Liverpool into the second half.
Former Liverpool man Joe Allen battles to get away from the challenge of Holland international Georginio Wijnaldum
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drives forward and rides the challenge of Stoke defender Erik Pieters
Jurgen Klopp cut an anxious figure on the touchline as Liverpool made a slow and hesitant start to the fixture
Joe Allen connected sweetly to a dropping ball in the area from Shaqiri’s cross but Dejan Lovren blocked to send just wide.
Atkinson was at the centre of more controversy as the match entered its final quarter. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Martins Indi raced for the ball by the touchline and came together fiercely, sparking a shoving contest and bringing Klopp from his area to hold back his player.
Oxlade-Chamberlain had appeared to meet a barge from Martins Indi with a forearm to the face but Atkinson showed both players a yellow.
Soon after Stoke had their best chance. Erik Pieters delivered a cross from deep, Crouch nodded down, but Allen blazed over from ten yards.
The introduction of Salah was too much for Stoke to handle and the Egypt player is well on his way to challenging for Player of the Season accolades.
Diouf had a chance to salvage a little pride in the last minute but hit the post and then sent the rebound to the high into the back of the stands rather than the open net. ballooned over horrible miss. This time child’s flag was raised for offside and Diouf for one should be thankful.