Liverpool dominates Tottenham at home in Balotelli's debut
LONDON (AP) — Liverpool's speedy attacking unit produced a 3-0 victory at Tottenham on Sunday though Mario Balotelli failed to make a goal-scoring return to the Premier League.
While the former Manchester City striker's finishing was wayward, dazzling forward Raheem Sterling netted the opener inside eight minutes, captain Steven Gerrard scored from a penalty at the start of the second half and defender Alberto Moreno opened his account for Liverpool.
The dismantling of Tottenham was the perfect response by last season's runners-up to losing at Manchester City in the previous game, reasserting their threat without Luis Suarez.
For Mauricio Pochettino, who had opened his Tottenham reign with a pair of victories in both the Premier League and Europa League, the collapse showed the size of the gulf that still exists between the London club and its elite rivals.
Tottenham hadn't even conceded a goal in its opening wins over West Ham and Queens Park Rangers, but Hugo Lloris' goal was under siege from the start by Liverpool.
Balotelli was signed from AC Milan for 16 million pounds ($26.5 million) on Monday to fill the void up front left by Suarez's departure to Barcelona. But the Italy striker was never as menacing at White Hart Lane as Suarez who scored twice in Liverpool's 5-0 win here last season.
Presented with an opening in the 2nd minute, Balotelli's header was parried by Lloris but he couldn't get the follow-up effort on target.
Instead a trio of English players combined for the opener six minutes later.
Jordan Henderson seized possession on the halfway line and released Daniel Sturridge to launch a counterattack down the right flank before the ball was returned to the midfielder. Henderson then squared to Sterling, who was left unmarked by Eric Dier and Younes Kaboul to tap the ball into the net.
It could have been 2-0 in the 11th minute when Sterling played in Sturridge though the center but the striker's effort was wide. Another attempt from Sturridge, after being played in by Balotelli's backheel, was thwarted by Lloris' diving save. And when Lloris was stranded outside the area, Balotelli tried his luck from distance but completely missed the net.
How costly Tottenham's own miss just before half time proved to be. A defensive mix-up presented Nacer Chadli with an opening but he stabbed the ball straight at goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Then, four minutes into the second half, Liverpool was further in front after being awarded a soft penalty when Joe Allen went down after being held back by Dier. Despite Balotelli's presence, Gerrard retained penalty taking duties and sent the spotkick beyond Lloris' reach.
Pochettino waited until the 59th minute to respond with changes, with central defender Mousa Dembele on for Nabil Bentaleb and winger Cristian Eriksen replaced by Andros Townsend.
Inside a minute, Townsend's first contribution was being dispossessed on the half way line by Moreno, who set away on a charge down the left before dispatching the ball into the net.
The damage for Tottenham could have been worse had Sterling's finish matched his skill in waltzing past three Tottenham players.
The convincing win sets up Liverpool to build from a position of strength after the international break, while Tottenham's ambitions will have been dampened.