'MARIO KEY TO TITLE PUSH'
Gerrard backing Balotelli to provide spark for Liverpool's league title tilt as Rodgers delights in win at Spurs
By Carl MarkhamLiverpool captain Steven Gerrard forecast Mario Balotelli could be the key to a title push after the Italian made a sharp debut in the 3-0 win at Tottenham.After joining from AC Milan, Balotelli was handed an immediate debut and spurned several first-half chances to grab an early goal for his new team.But Balotelli contributed well before being substituted after an hour, linking up effectively with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge.And Gerrard, who fired Liverpool's second goal from the penalty spot in the Premier League win, said of the former Manchester City striker: "I thought he was terrific."All eyes were on him, wondering whether he was going to work hard for the team... was he going to hold the ball up for us? Credit to him, I thought he was terrific for an hour."If he plays like that for us every week and continues to improve, he could be the difference whether we compete or not."improveGerrard has found no fault in Balotelli's attitude so far, with his temperament having been called into question on several occasions during a career blighted by disciplinary problems."He's been terrific since he came in," Gerrard said."He's worked hard and taken on all the tactics, how we play, with and without the ball."He'll only improve with a manager like Brendan (Rodgers), and the rest of the lads, seeing what we all do. He'll have to follow suit, that's the only option."Gerrard remains Liverpool's first choice when it comes to penalties, but he knows Balotelli can be lethal from 12 yards too."I'm aware he's a terrific penalty taker," Gerrard said. "I'm sure he'll get the chance to take some penalties for the club. The manager's told me if I'm not on the pitch he'll take them."That was a very important penalty today, because I know everyone's waiting for me to miss so they can tell me Ricky (Lambert) or Mario can be the penalty takers. But the more good penalty takers we've got, the better."Gerrard said on Liverpool's overall commanding display at White Hart Lane: "It was very good. I think we're more pleased with the clean sheet than our attacking play which was superb again."We know we're a threat, we've got pace, we've got talented players."The challenge for this team is to defend better, that's what we got criticised for last year."Clean sheets are what we want so I'm sure the manager's going to be buzzing with the clean sheet."Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers had huge praise for both debutant Balotelli Sterling."Mario was excellent. You could see his team ethic - he was pressing, working for us as much as he could. He was very good," Rodgers said."Take away the circus that surrounds him - the circus he probably invites himself sometimes - and control the background noise and get him focused on his football, and he's a good fella."He'll make mistakes and he was disappointed not to score, but he'll be a handful for defenders. He's now at an age where he has to show maturity. Now I'm giving him responsibility."For the first time in his life, he marked at a corner. Seriously."An international player who has won three titles in Italy and the Champions League and we were doing corners in training. I said 'you're picking him up at a corner' and he said 'I don't mark at corners'. I replied: 'Well, now you do'."He had a great header against Tottenham from a corner. Treat him like an adult and it'll bring the best out of him."FLEXIBLESterling's finest moment saw him weave a path through the home defence only to fire a tame shot at Hugo Lloris, prompting Brendan Rodgers to joke: "Raheem ran into the box like Ricky Villa and finished it like Ricky Gervais".Otherwise the Liverpool boss was glowing in his praise for Sterling and with Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge also excelling, he predicted England will also benefit from the progress made by the trio."Raheem needs to be better on his left foot. It was a wonderful moment of skill and he was fantastic for us again," Rodgers said."His tactical awareness is improving, and for a kid of 19.....he's been great. I don't see him as a (number) 10, I think he's flexible. You've seen his flexibility and it was perfect against Spurs." – 01 September 2014 02:30 PM