Mario Balotelli plays second fiddle as Liverpool crush Tottenham Hotspur

Written by Reuters | London | Updated: Sep 1 2014, 04:17am hrs
The Mario Balotelli show rolled into town and was greeted by a chorus of a approval even if the Italian ringmaster was just a supporting act as Liverpool tore Tottenham Hotspur apart 3-0 in the Premier League on Sunday.

The travelling Liverpool support came armed with an anthem to welcome their latest signing, captain Steven Gerrard hailed his performance as "terrific" and manager Brendan Rodgers added his hearty approval.

Yet on the pitch, while all eyes were on Balotelli, Liverpool's cast of other attacking talents reprised the dynamic cut-and-thrust that characterised last season's title push.

Apart from some industrious running and the odd nice touch, Balotelli was a largely anonymous cog, with the goals coming courtesy of Raheem Sterling, a Gerrard penalty and a brilliant individual effort from new left back Alberto Moreno.

The Italian did enough in his 60-minute debut, however, to maintain the feelings of positivity generated by his 16 million pounds ($26.6 million) move from AC Milan.

The early signs are, according to the Liverpool manager, that he may be heeding the warning that this is a now-or-never opportunity to prove he can back up his obvious talent with the required application.

"He's bought straight into our team ethic," a smiling Rodgers told reporters. "For the first time in his life he marked at a corner."

A goal might have put a smile on Balotelli's stony face, but an early header was saved and a volleyed effort miscued, leaving his perma-glum expression unbroken.

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The star of the show was Raheem Sterling, whose opening goal and second in three games, after eight minutes, settled nerves and provided the platform on which Liverpool could build.

Playing at the point of Rodgers's diamond formation, his quick feet proved hard to fathom for Tottenham's defensive ranks.

His precise close-range finish from Jordan Henderson's ball across the face of goal, could not mask, however, that a lone weak point in his armoury seems to be his composure in front of goal.

A comically bad second-half toe-poke after a dizzying run into the area prompted Rodgers to quip: "He dribbled through the Spurs defence like Ricky Villa, but his finish was more like Ricky Gervais."

This was effectively a game between two sides who had sold their best player and used the money to restructure their squads on the back of 100 million-pound investments.

Yet while Tottenham have had a season to bed in those players who arrived following Gareth Bale's departure, they still looked short of quality in key areas.

Liverpool have spent liberally following Luis Suarez's exit, but looked a more cohesive unit, despite starting the fixture with four new arrivals.

One of them, left back Moreno, recruited from Sevilla, netted a stunning first Premier League goal to round off the scoring.

After Gerrard had converted from the penalty spot, following a tug on Joe Allen's shirt, four minutes after the restart, Moreno ran half the length of the pitch before cutting inside the hosts' box and drilling the ball right footed into the net.

The pace of his run was only matched by the speed with which he dashed to the Liverpool fans in the far corner of White Hart Lane to celebrate.

It had added meaning for Rodgers, who singled him out for criticism following Liverpool's 3-1 defeat by Manchester City on Monday.

"That's why you work with young players. He should have got tighter to (Jesus) Navas (for City's third goal), but he has learned from that and you see today he was excellent."