LONDON: Liverpool’s five-goal destruction of Tottenham in north London last season prompted the subsequent sacking of Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas. The latest triumph, by a more modest but no less comprehensive 3-0, will be memorable not for a departure but for an arrival.
Mario Balotelli had plenty to prove at White Hart Lane. He had to respond to critics who see him as more of a self-destructive troublemaker than a match-winner; to those who considered him a waste of £16m; and to Antonio Conte who had just omitted from Italy’s national team squad.
Balotelli’s answer was outstanding. All it lacked was a goal of his own though he might have had a first-half hat-trick half-time.
One clear heading chance was wasted, one snapshot with Hugo Lloris caught out of goal bobbled wide and an effort on the turn flew over the bar. Manager Brendan Rodgers leaped from the manager’s bench, smiling and applauding. He must have been as relieved as anyone to see his faith in Super Mario paying off on his own 100th game in charge.
Liverpool had already grabbed an early lead through Raheem Sterling. Then Balotelli’s committed aggression softened up Spurs for a further two-goal salvo early in the second half. Steve Gerrard converted a penalty for shirt-pulling against Eric Dier before Alberto Moreno chased 50m for a superb first goal since his move from Sevilla.
Emmanuel Adebayor and Nacer Chadli wasted clear opportunies to rescue Spurs when Liverpool still led only 1-0. But, after an hour of play, it was all over. Liverpool had exorcised the memory of their 3:1 beating at Manchester City last Monday and – with the help of Balotelli – suggested that life without Luis Suarez might not be so difficult after all.
Gerrard said: “He was terrific for an hour. He could be the difference regarding whether we can compete for the title or not. In fact, he has been terrific since he came in. He works hard and he will only improve with a manager like Brendan Rodgers.”
As for Balotelli’s cheeky request to take over his role as penalty taker, Gerrard said: “I am sure he will get his chances over the season. The more good penalty takers we have the better – especially for cup competitions.”
** Arsenal’s 1-1 draw at promoted Leicester exposed their attacking weakness in the injury absence of Olivier Giroud.
Alexis Sanchez scored his first Premier League goal while Lukas Podolski made his first appearance of the season as a late substitute centre-forward.
Mesut Ozil injured an ankle in the closing stages and wanted to be replaced but had to play on because Arsenal had used all their substitutes.
** Aston Villa’s Austrian Andreas Weimann made the opening goal for Gabi Agbonlahor and scored the second himself in a 2-1 win over Hull.