Tuesday 12 December 2017

Balotelli finally delivers the spur Reds need

Striker comes off the bench to score winner in Anfield thriller

Liverpool's Mario Balotelli during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield
Liverpool's Mario Balotelli during the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield
Liverpool's Mario Balotelli leaves the pitch as teammates celebrate winning the Barclays Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool

The sponsors' logo on Liverpool's jersey read 'Seeing is Believing'. How apt it was. Finally, after six months of frustration, Mario Balotelli was a Liverpool match winner as Tottenham succumbed in a thrilling 3-2 home victory.

So often Brendan Rodgers has sent on the Italian more in hope than expectation, and so it seemed again as Liverpool sought a vital three points. This time Balotelli delivered. It was not just his most important league goal for Liverpool, it was his only one so far. The watching Liverpool owner, John W Henry, must have wondering where all the negativity surrounding the striker had come from.

How Liverpool needed the 83rd-minute contribution having twice been pegged back by Mauricio Pochettino's side.

Inevitably, Harry Kane had struck again. Spurs play and Kane scores. They might as well start printing it on the match tickets.

This was Kane's 23rd goal of the season, a 26th-minute equaliser after Lazar Markovic had rewarded early Liverpool momentum. Mousa Dembele would later cancel out Steven Gerrard's penalty in the second half, but it was Liverpool's subs - Adam Lallana claimed the assist for the winner -who shifted momentum to Anfield in the hunt for Champions League places.

Balotelli, on for Daniel Sturridge, could finally start feeling the love.

Spurs' record at Anfield has been horrific, but the same does not apply to their manager. Pochettino was victorious here as Southampton manager last season, and he set up his side to attack.

Liverpool had all the forward momentum, and took the lead on 15 minutes with the kind of long-ball move that might provoke a Louis van Gaal dossier.

Mignolet picked out Sturridge with his goal-kick, and the striker's attempt to control the ball was diverted by Jan Vertonghen to Markovic. The Serbian's shot was tame but Hugo Lloris seemed to be beaten by the bobble. It was a rare blemish for an outstanding goalkeeper.

Pochettino's strategy looked flawed at that stage, but the response gave Spurs a measure of control, especially in midfield where Liverpool looked more exposed in the enforced absence of Lucas. The mistakes flowed from the red shirt as Christian Eriksen, Lamala and, inevitably, Kane took the initiative.

The trio combined for a 26th-minute equaliser, the Dane and the Argentine exchanging passes and feeding Kane, who emphatically beat Mignolet with a little assistance from Sakho's slip. Liverpool's defence has acquainted itself with solidity in recent weeks, but the physicality as much as skill of Kane was troubling them in a manner they have not been accustomed since they adopted a new formation.

Despite plentiful opportunities, Pochettino would have been most satisfied at the interval. Liverpool had scored the last 15 goals in this fixture prior to Kane's equaliser, but the visitors looked well-equipped to take control of the Champions League race.

What was undermining them was the appetite for self-destruction, as demonstrated when Rose gifted Liverpool a 53rd-minute penalty for tripping Sturridge.

Referee Phil Dowd mystifyingly missed the obvious offence, the decision correctly made by his assistant. Gerrard stepped forward, and although Lloris guessed right the strike was too powerful.

Mignolet made a terrific save from Lamala on 55 minutes then a trademark Eriksen free-kick led to Spurs' second equaliser.

Mignolet pushed aside the 20-yard strike, but Kane pounced on the rebound, firing across the six-yard box for Dembele to ease in.

Rodgers was forced into a change on 68 minutes when Gerrard pulled up and had to replaced by Dejan Lovren. In the tactical reshuffle Emre Can was moved into midfield.

Pochettino responded by sending on Paulinho for Mason, while Sturridge was showing signs of fatigue and was replaced by Balotelli on 74 minutes.

As ever when the Italian is sent on, it was a case of close your eyes and hope for the best where Liverpool fans are concerned.

Lallana, summoned to replace the erratic Markovic, delivered the cross on 83 minutes and Balotelli was there for the tap-in. At last it was about him.


Liverpool 3 Spurs 2

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