The Reds cruised to a 3-0 victory at Tottenham on Sunday with the Italy international impressing on his debut, but the England man stole the show
By Greg Stobart at White Hart Lane
The questions had been asked all week: can Liverpool compete for the title again this season and will the signing of Mario Balotelli prove an inspired decision or a self-destructive shot in the foot?
It is too early to answer definitively, but the signs are looking good for Brendan Rodgers and his players.
The Reds’ trip to White Hart Lane on Sunday was billed as the barometer of their capacity to compete this term following the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona and last week’s defeat at Manchester City.
The answer was emphatic as Liverpool dismantled Spurs with a dominant 3-0 victory in north London.
Suarez’s departure has given others an opportunity to step up and, while all eyes were on Balotelli before kick-off here, it was Raheem Sterling who stole the show once it got underway.
The England attacker, playing at the tip of a diamond formation, tormented Tottenham with the speed of his mind and his feet, effortlessly dazzling his way past defenders throughout the afternoon.
Sterling put the Reds ahead in the eighth minute from close range and set the tone for a display reminiscent of the attacking vibrancy of their stunning 5-0 victory at Tottenham last December.
Steven Gerrard put Liverpool two up from the penalty spot just after half-time before new signing Alberto Moreno smashed home the goal of the game following a driving run to put the result beyond doubt.
Throughout the afternoon, Tottenham looked totally unable to stop Liverpool’s lightening attacking moves and swift link-up play in the final third.
Balotelli may have played second fiddle to Sterling, but the controversial €20 million signing from AC Milan was at the heart of much of the Reds’ good work during a complete performance against a feeble Spurs side.
The 24-year-old should have scored within a couple of minutes, but headed too close to Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris from seven yards. Later in the half, he picked up a loose clearance from Lloris but his lob went closer to the corner flag.
But the Italian was full of running and effort, immediately buying in to Liverpool’s philosophy of pressing high up the pitch. On the ball, he linked up well with Sterling and strike partner Daniel Sturridge.
Rodgers was certainly happy with his new recruit’s performance before his withdrawal after an hour.
“I thought the two boys up front with Raheem in behind worked really well,” Rodgers said. “He was very good. I think you all saw Mario’s workrate, pressing and effort out there today. He was disappointed not to score.
“He’s a good guy and a good man. If you take away the circus around him, control the background noise and get him to solely focus on football, you can see his quality.
“It’s the first time ever he’s marked at a corner. I’m being serious – an international player. We were working on corners in training and he said ‘I’ve not marked at a corner before’. I said ‘you do now’. You need to treat him as an adult.”
It was a Liverpool performance reminiscent of their swashbuckling charge towards the title last season that ultimately ended in crushing disappointment.
There has been a train of thought that another challenge is beyond them, especially without Suarez and with the added complication of Champions League football.
With Balotelli’s star quality alongside the brilliance of Sterling and Sturridge, the Reds’ future looks bright regardless.