Balotelli's Liverpool debut wasn't the disaster we all expected
Taming Balotelli the maverick is one issue; incorporating him into the team a separate challenge altogether.
It could have been a bit of a disaster. In the event, it was anything but. Mario Balotelli debuted for Liverpool on Sunday, making some bright contributions in a cosy 3-0 win for Brendan Rodgers’ men at White Hart Lane. He missed three chances, which on another day may have proved costly, but he worked hard, moved into dangerous areas and generally looked like he might fit into Liverpool’s formidable attacking engine quite smoothly.
Which is quite a relief really, considering he was keeping players of the quality of Lazar Markovic and Philippe Coutinho out of the team. The body language was good and the clowning around was non-existent, except for a late decision to change boots moments before the second half was due to start.
Balotelli will continue to create a conundrum for Rodgers; there is an inference from what the manager has said that no special favours will be granted to the talented Italian striker. Before Sunday’s match, Rodgers said: “He is going to be treated the same as every player here, that’s for sure. A repeat of what happened at City won’t happen here. It’s a different style. We have different conditions at Liverpool. You have to behave yourself in a certain way. Simple.”
Taming the maverick is one issue; incorporating him into the team a separate challenge altogether. Balotelli played alongside Daniel Sturridge as one of two strikers with Raheem Sterling operating in his now favoured position just behind them, or at the sharp end of the midfield diamond. These were smart tactics from Rodgers, since an isolated Balotelli with three attacking midfielders behind him may have found it harder to make much of an impact in his first Liverpool start.
Sterling was outstanding. He appears to have improved since the second half of last season when he was already a very good player and better defences than Tottenham’s will have anxious moments in coping with his pace and dribbling capabilities. But is central defence still a concern for Liverpool? Dejan Lovren threw in a few errors before settling down and Mamadou Sakho still fails to convince his detractors.
If, as the experts predict, this Premier League season will be a straight fight between Manchester City and Chelsea then the weekend could not have gone much better for the Blues, who blazed six goals past Everton at Goodison on the same day City were beaten at home by Stoke.
Diego Costa has brought a rugged physicality allied to a deadly finish to Chelsea’s forward line. He’s given them exactly what they were missing last season, and his four goals have been instrumental in giving them a perfect nine points from their opening three games.
Now that Fernando Torres is finally off the pay-roll, Chelsea appear to be doing their best to buy up plenty of other forwards too, if only to frustrate the ambitions of other Premier League rivals. Loic Remy has joined the Stamford Bridge club, despite a late attempt by Arsenal to steer the Frenchman to north London instead. Absurdly, Chelsea have also been linked with a move for Radamel Falcao, who hasn’t shone at Monaco having been brilliant at Atletico Madrid. But the Colombian is more likely to join Manchester City, who don’t really need him, or Arsenal, who certainly do, before the transfer window closes late on Monday.
Chelsea’s squad, as it is at the time of writing, is really powerful. Cesc Fabregas has already forged a strong working relationship with Costa, and defence, a notable strong suit for the club last season, has been boosted with the arrival of Filipe Luis. With talented playmakers such as Willian, Oscar and Eden Hazard becoming tuned into the Jose Mourinho way they are surely going to be a major force when the international break comes to an end and the season resumes in earnest.
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