With the craziness of the transfer deadline, the addition of Mario Balotelli suddenly seems like a minor one compared to what’s happening not so far from Liverpool. It doesn’t matter as the Italian proved something to Brendan Rodgers about the diamond system and playing with two strikers, making Daniel Sturridge a lot more effective and gives space to Raheem Sterling to shine and show his incredible ability.
Balotelli didn’t score and didn’t set up any goals in the 3-0 win over Tottenham, making it a fourth consecutive victory for Liverpool over Spurs. However, his presence finally allowed Daniel Sturridge to look like the striker from last season, and not someone struggling in the target man role, not sure if to stay in the box or go out and find some spaces like he loves to do, and what usually makes him so dangerous.
The first goal was a perfect example. With Balotelli soaking up so much attention inside the box, Sturridge could roam to the right wing, putting in the brilliant pass to Jordan Henderson, leading to the opening goal by Raheem Sterling. Balotelli was rusty and maybe unlucky with some of his shots, but he helped on defense which left the quicker Sturridge up front for counter attacks and made a few intelligent passes to Sturridge and Sterling.
Rodgers still needs another tactic to work for him. The five midfielders one hasn’t looked good early on, but maybe it’s about the personnel and needs a bit more of tinkering. Lazar Markovic will start at some point and Philippe Coutinho will make his return. If the two can make bigger commitments to the defensive side, they both can play instead of Joe Allen at times or even Jordan Henderson, in the diamond formation which means leaving Raheem Sterling in, although it’s unlikely that Henderson will actually know about fatigue this season, barring injuries.
Sterling is starting to touch on the realms of World Class. He had some brilliant moments last season, but he is showing with every season how much he’s learning as player. His finishing needs some touch ups, especially when it comes to power, but he knows how to play on the wing and behind the strikers. His movement without the ball has improved immensely, giving Liverpool a crucial attacking dimension they need now that Suarez is gone.
Not everything is perfect. Dejan Lovren had a solid performance but keeps making mistakes. Javier Manquillo has been solid in his matches so far, but Rodgers loves Glen Johnson for some reason. There’s also the case of Emre Can, who so far has shown one of the worst first touches in football, which makes you wonder why so much money has been spent on him.
Rodgers showing he can learn has been vital in Liverpool’s ascendance since he took the job, and needed about four months for things to click. Maybe there was some arrogance in his approach against Manchester City, but he got the shake up at the right time, leading to the right decisions in a tricky visit to White Hart Lane, showing it might be a bit too early to count out Liverpool from the developing title race.