Balotelli breaks duck

LONDON. — Mario Balotelli finally scored his first English Premier League goal for Liverpool to seal a dramatic 3-2 win over Tottenham, while Arsenal moved up to fourth place with a 2-1 victory against Leicester on Tuesday night. Balotelli has endured a miserable time at Anfield since his pre-season move from AC Milan, but in his 13th league appearance for the Reds he picked the perfect moment to break his goal drought with an 83rd minute winner after coming off the bench.

The Italian striker had only scored twice previously for Liverpool, with his last coming against Swansea in the League Cup in October.

Balotelli’s headline-grabbing intervention provided a fitting finale to an entertaining encounter which saw Liverpool lead through Lazar Markovic’s 15th minute goal before in-form Tottenham forward Harry Kane continued his hot streak with a 26th minute equaliser to take his goal tally for the season to 23.

Just hours after the Premier League announced a staggering 70 percent increase in the value of its British television rights for the 2016-19 seasons, with Sky and BT Sports paying a combined £5,1 billion (US$7,8 billion) to show games, this was a thriller to justify that huge outlay.

Steven Gerrard’s 53rd minute penalty, awarded for Danny Rose’s trip on Daniel Sturridge, restored Liverpool’s lead before Mousa Dembele bundled in Kane’s cross eight minutes later.

That set the stage for Balotelli, who replaced Sturridge in the 74th minute and netted nine minutes later when he tapped-in Adam Lallana’s cross.

Brendan Rodgers’ side stay seventh but move within one point of sixth placed Tottenham in the battle to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish.

“Mario Balotelli has been working hard in training and for the last couple of weeks he’s been ill so it’s great that he scored the winner,” Liverpool assistant manager Colin Pascoe said.

Pascoe hopes Balotelli’s struggles will now become a thing of the past and that the enigmatic 24-year-old, who had previously scored only twice in all competitions this season, can take confidence from the goal.

“I hope it can be a springboard, he is training hard,” Pascoe said. “It’s testament to him that’s he kept going and got his reward. It was great movement from Mario in the six-yard box and a good finish.”

The Reds had twice led through Markovic and a Gerrard penalty, only to be pegged back by goals from Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Mousa Dembele.

However, Balotelli came off the bench to strike the decisive blow and secure the points against one of Liverpool’s rivals for a Champions League spot.

Liverpool now lie seventh in the table, one place behind Spurs and only three points off the all-important top four.

“The last couple of weeks Mario’s been ill,” Pascoe added. “And he has had some knocks on his foot and he couldn’t get his boot on. So it’s great that he scored the winner

“To get a winner at Anfield, he is immensely happy.”

Pascoe also revealed that Liverpool captain Gerrard was withdrawn in the second half as a preventative measure because of a slight hamstring problem.

“Steven felt his hamstring and felt he had to come off,” Pascoe said. “He could feel it a little. But it was an important win, it was a great win and we deserved it.”

Tottenham head coach Mauricio Pochettino urged his players not to let the defeat affect their performances as they try to secure a place in the Champions League.

“The players are very disappointed, sad and tired but we have to accept football is like this,” he said.

“I am proud of the effort and we have to look forward.

“We are disappointed with the result because I think one point would have been fair for both teams. It was a great game, we played well but this is football.”

However, Pochettino was disappointed with some of the defensive lapses in the first half. — AFP.