• Captain says debutant striker could prove key to club’s title bid
• ‘He will continue to improve under Brendan Rodgers’
• Liverpool turn on power to beat limp Tottenham
• The best images from White Hart Lane in our match gallery
Steven Gerrard believes Mario Balotelli could make the difference in Liverpool’s title pursuit after his side’s scintillating win at Tottenham Hotspur, where the Italian showed his willingness to contribute to the collective effort by defending at corners, apparently for the first time in his career.
Balotelli did not score on his debut as Raheem Sterling inspired this comfortable victory but, while the £16m signing from Milan missed three presentable opportunities, he still contributed heavily to his team’s efficiently impressive display. “All eyes were on him wondering if he would work hard for the team and I thought he was terrific for an hour,” said Gerrard. “If he plays like that every game he will continue to improve under a manager like Brendan Rodgers and he could be the difference between whether we compete or not.
“He has been terrific since he came in. He has worked hard, taken all the tactics on board and he will only improve. With the rest of the lads and seeing what we all do, he will have to follow suit. That is his only option. But he’s been terrific so far.”
Rodgers said the striker had initially been perplexed in training last week when asked to defend at corners. “For the first time in his life he marked at a corner,” said the Liverpool manager. “Seriously. An international player who has won three titles in Italy, cups, the Champions League. We were doing corners and I said to him: ‘I’m putting you on [a man] at [defensive] corners.’ He said: ‘I don’t mark at corners.’ ‘Ah, well you do now.’ He went in and he had a great header today from a corner. Treat him like an adult and that’s [what happens].
“Mario’s a good guy, a good man. If you take away the circus that surrounds him, and the circus he probably invites himself sometimes, and control the background noise and get him focused on his football, he’s a good fella. He’ll make mistakes but I think today you saw him get his reward for a really good week’s work with the team fully focused on football: working, pressing, disappointed not to score but you can see he’ll be a handful for defenders. He is now at an age where he has got to show maturity. I am giving him responsibility.
“This was an outstanding team performance from us and a great win. This group is really hungry. We lost the game at Manchester City last Monday and had to come here to a team that’s started well but we showed we are a very good side. We clicked back into where we were last season. That’s great to see.”
Liverpool effectively completed their main transfer business with Balotelli’s arrival, although the club are considering a move for the former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdés as backup for Simon Mignolet. Valdés is a free agent having left the Spanish club this summer, and will not be recovered from a knee injury until October.
Liverpool will also attempt to trim their squad on deadline day, with Rodgers having informed Lucas Leiva and Fabio Borini that their playing time this season will be “very limited”. Napoli have inquired about Lucas, while Sunderland had a £14m bid accepted for Borini earlier this summer only for the Italian striker to resist a return to the Stadium of Light, where he spent last season on loan. There is interest from clubs in Serie A.
The Tottenham Hotspur manager, Mauricio Pochettino, allayed fears that the left-back Danny Rose may be forced out of the England squad for the friendly international against Norway at Wembley on Wednesday and the Euro 2016 qualifier in Switzerland a week on Monday. The defender departed 18 minutes from time having suffered a dead leg, but Spurs expect him to link up with Roy Hodgson’s squad as expected.