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Neil Humphreys
Wednesday, Sep 3, 2014

Sports

Super Mario, suberb Reds

The New Paper | Neil Humphreys | Wednesday, Sep 3, 2014

Tottenham Hotspur's Belgian midfielder Nacer Chadli celebrates scoring his second goal during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Queens Park Rangers at White Hart Lane in north London

In the end, the return of Mario Balotelli was overshadowed by the return of the Reds.

Perhaps one provided the inspirational spark for the other. The Liverpool debutant was an intimidating force at White Hart Lane, but the wonderful invention was a collective effort.

Maybe the enigmatic Italian served as a defibrillator because his teammates found their pulse last night.

Liverpool's campaign roared into life with an easy 3-0 victory as their Tottenham opponents threatened to flat-line.

Early talk of Spurs being legitimate title challengers now seems as ridiculous as the suggestion of an Anfield demise.

Liverpool are by no means the finished article, but articles claiming they are finished appear misinformed.

The Reds are ready to challenge once more, with the bruising Balotelli eager to play a part in their resurgence.

The mercurial striker didn't score, but he had a direct involvement in five clear-cut chances and might have had a hat-trick by half-time.

He bullied Eric Dier, pulled Younes Kaboul around and flexed his muscles against Tottenham's nondescript defensive midfielders.

Balotelli wasn't quite brilliant, but he was no less enigmatic. You couldn't take your eyes off him and he knew it, keeping his teammates waiting at the start of both halves before strutting out onto the pitch.

Every Premier League stage is a theatre for Balotelli. He has a part to play that will both entertain the Anfield faithful and occasionally infuriate his manager Brendan Rodgers. He is always going to be a magnet for both the magnificent and the malignant.

But he was a positive influence. His swagger proved infectious; his arrogance was catching in the camp.

For the first time this season, Liverpool displayed the counter-attacking cockiness that defined their previous campaign.

Their fast, incisive opener from Raheem Sterling was topped by an extraordinary, lung-busting solo effort from Alberto Moreno. Those goals were sandwiched either side of a Steven Gerrard penalty.

Dier's arms certainly caught Joe Allen in the box, but the Liverpool midfielder made a 10-course wedding banquet meal of the minimal contact; perhaps the only sour note of the match.

Brendan Rodgers' decision to revert to his favoured midfield diamond to accommodate Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge proved a masterstroke.

With Gerrard at the base, Sterling was free to expose Tottenham's stubborn, perennial problem - there's still a need for speed through Spurs' spine.

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