A brilliant goal by Stewart Downing gave Liverpool a 1-0 Europa League win over Anzhi Makhachkala, putting the Reds top of Group A.
Downing, much maligned since joining Liverpool last season, unleashed a wonderful right-foot strike seven minutes after being asked to play left-back, although Liverpool probably should have scored a few more against the disappointingly negative Russian side.
The hosts had spurned several chances, with Steven Gerrard and Jonjo Shelvey guilty of glaring misses, making for a nervy finish as Anzhi finally threw men forward.
But they could not equalise, thanks in part to a poor performance from Samuel Eto’o, who is the highest-paid player in world football but barely tested Brad Jones.
Coupled with Udinese’s surprising defeat at Young Boys Berne, Liverpool’s win puts them top, two points ahead of Anzhi and the Italians, who both have four points.
The first half was lively enough, with Liverpool dictating the tempo, but the Reds’ recent malaise – poor decision-making in the final third – showed no sign of vanishing as Suarez in particular got his wires crossed.
Oussama Assaidi impressed though, his direct running and honesty when challenged Liverpool’s main attacking outlet alongside Suarez, who should have scored early on when firing weakly at Vladimir Gabulov.
Gabulov had more to do just after that chance, parrying well from Glen Johnson’s effort after another fine run from Assaidi, the pair combining well on the left.
Suarez did get his final ball right once, laying it off to Shelvey after a run from the left, but the young England midfielder made a hash of his finish, blasting yards over.
Liverpool felt they should have had a penalty on 35 minutes when, with Assaidi involved again, Johnson kicked air and hit the deck five yards out, under pressure from Kamil Agalarov. The referee decided the England full-back had slipped, though there may have been a touch.
Those three chances aside, speculative long-range efforts marked the rest of the half, with Anzhi muted going forward despite the presence of the quiet Eto’o.
There was a half-time change for Liverpool as Raheem Sterling came on for Johnson, with the reluctant Downing asked to fill in at left-back.
Sterling had an impact with his breezy running, and his flick-on released Shelvey down the left, whose fine cross landed on the head of an unmarked Gerrard, who guided his free header wide.
It was a poor miss but it seemed to inspire Liverpool, with Brendan Rodgers vindicated in style as Downing fired in a spectacular goal from range.
Downing has not had the best of times at Anfield and his commitment was publicly questioned by Rodgers over his unease at playing left-back. But he is more effective there than on the right side of midfield, and it was from that side that he cut in before unleashing a wonderful drive with his weaker foot, across the poorly-positioned Gabulov and inside the right of the goal.
Inspired by that, Liverpool went for a second, with Suarez hitting the side-netting with one snap-shot and Shelvey let down by a dreadful first touch after Suarez played him through. Assaidi should have had a penalty after he was brought down by Arseniy Logashov - Suarez was booked for protesting - while Daniel Agger’s attempt at a cheeky retro goal when he headed the ball out of the keeper’s hand was also greeted with a card from the ref.
Downing may have scored a fantastic goal but he is not a natural defender, a shocking pass across the face of his own goal giving Liverpool the jitters: fortunately for him, the hitherto ineffectual Eto’o fired straight at Brad Jones.
That was Eto’o’s only real sight of goal, with Anzhi’s late charge mostly led by Morocco’s Belgian-born half-Spanish winger Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez, who had a few long shots blocked and go wide, while 18 million euro beanpole striker Lacina Traore put past the post from close range at a tight angle.
It would have been harsh on Liverpool to concede, and they must be more clinical in front of goal, but they now look towards a Merseyside derby boosted by successive clean sheets following the win over Reading.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Oussama Assaidi – Liverpool: Determined, skilful, quick and direct, he is just the sort of player Liverpool needed out wide. Involved in most of their attacking play, and should have had a penalty. If only his forwards could finish.
LIVERPOOL: Jones 7, Johnson 7, Agger 7, Skrtel 6, Wisdom 7, Sahin 6, Gerrard 6, Downing 7, Shelvey 5, Suarez 6, Assaidi 8. Subs: Allen N/A, Sterling 7
ANZHI: Gabulov 5, Samba 6, Carlos 6, Shatov 6, Agalarov 6, Boussoufa 5, Carcela-Gonzalez 7, Zhirkov 6, Gabulov 6, Eto'o 5, Smolov 6. Subs: Logashov 5, Lakhiyalov N/A, Traore 6