Rodgers said of the Balotelli signing that he didn’t want to talk about the new striker from AC Milan every week. But at 13:25 at White Hart Lane, all eyes were on Super Mario, who arrived late out of the tunnel, typical of a man who loves the limelight. By the end, his thunder had been somewhat stolen by the brilliant Raheem Sterling and the impressive Alberto Moreno, although Balotelli certainly had an impact on his debut.
Liverpool played Tottenham twice last year, winning 5-0 against AVB’s side at White Hart Lane, before a similar drubbing to the Tim Sherwood managed team at Anfield. Yet under Pochettino, signs had been promising. Misfits Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli showed form in their opening two fixtures, which they won without conceding. Liverpool on the other hand had been average in comparison to the excitement they provided for much of last season. A scrappy 2-1 win at home to Southampton was followed by a disheartening 3-1 loss away to Manchester City. A win at in-form Tottenham would be a solid statement to send out to fellow title rivals.
The enigmatic Italian almost made the dream start to his Liverpool career after just two minutes, but his header from Sturridge’s cross was parried away by Lloris, and the follow-up went wide. Liverpool started strongly, and the reward came after seven minutes. Manquillo won the ball back from Chadli, getting it out to Sturridge who found Henderson in an advanced position. Henderson’s perfectly weighted pass evaded Kaboul and Vertonghen, allowing Sterling to score from close range. The move, involving three English players, will have delighted the onlooking Roy Hodgson, hoping to build a team capable of challenging at the biggest stage.
This was the first time Spurs had conceded in the league this season, but Pochettino’s men were almost level immediately, Adebayor’s attempted lob failing to trouble Mignolet. Moments later, Sturridge came close to doubling the advantage, only to see his left footed drive drift just wide of the post. Balotelli continued to cause havoc in the Spurs defence, and was unlucky when he headed wide from Gerrard’s searching free kick. After a period of being pressed back into their own half, Tottenham bounced back with their own period of possession. New recruit Dejan Lovren impressively used his skill to prevent a decent opportunity for Chadli, while Sakho atoned for giving the ball away by making a last ditch tackle on Adebayor, to prevent a glorious opportunity. An error strewn period of the game continued, after a poor back pass from Bentaleb gave Sterling the chance to set up the advancing Moreno in acres of space. However the England winger scuffed his pass, allowing the home side to reclaim possession.
Balotelli showed glimpses of how he and Sturridge will link up, with a well-timed backheel giving his new teammate a decent chance for a shot on goal. Luckily for Pochettino, his keeper was alert, and able to save Sturridge’s effort comfortably. The new signing tormented the defence on his debut, doing brilliantly to hold off the advancing Spurs players, but after Lloris rushed out of position to clear the ball, Balotelli’s 35 yard effort towards an empty goal ended up well wide. With Gerrard having a poor half by his standards, Henderson stepped up, controlling the game while demonstrating grit and tenacity, as if this were his audition for the currently vacant role of vice-captain. Lovren and Sakho were making their first appearance as a centre-back pairing, and it showed, when their lack of communication saw them both go for the same ball, allowing Chadli a free shot on goal. Fortunately for the two, Mignolet, who had had precious little to do previously, was alert to tip the shot over the crossbar.
It was just minutes into the second half when Liverpool doubled their advantage. Joe Allen was caught in the box by Eric Dier, under limited but certain contact. Balotelli has a near perfect penalty record, but it was the regular taker, Steven Gerrard, who sent the ball into the bottom left hand corner to beat Lloris. The home side attempted to escape from a difficult position, but a Chadli cross failed to reach Adebayor, and Moreno reacted superbly to prevent an easy opportunity for Adebayor, following a mistake from Lovren. Despite the chances for Tottenham, Liverpool put the game to bed after 60 minutes. New signing Alberto Moreno won the ball back in his own half from substitute Andros Townsend, and kept running down the left hand side, before unleashing a left footed drive into Lloris’ bottom right hand corner.
Tottenham rarely challenged from that point, their main priority appeared to be preventing the 5-0 embarrassment suffered last season. Emre Can and Lazar Markovic were given half an hour to impress, but shortly after Sturridge forced a good save from Lloris, it was Sterling who came close to a ‘goal of the season’ contender. In a manner similar to that of his former teammate Luis Suarez, Sterling picked up the ball of Emre Can, humiliating two Spurs with his excellent footwork. In a manner unlike Suarez, however, the finish was awful, and comfortably gathered by Lloris. The remainder of the match was a formality, and the feelings at the final whistle will have been ones of optimism for Liverpool fans, compared with the worries felt last week at the Etihad. It’s hard to say whether Balotelli will hit it off at Liverpool, but judging by his performance today, the early signs are promising.