In the unlikely event he didn’t know before, Brendan Rodgers has already got a taste of the sort of spotlight that will be on new Liverpool signing Mario Balotelli. The Italian striker was signed from Milan a week ago and is set to make his debut when Liverpool visit White Hart Lane to take on Tottenham on Sunday. It is hoped that he will help replace at least some of the goals lost with the departure of Luis Suarez. While that remains to be seen, it is clear that the maverick 24-year-old carries much of the star power of the Uruguayan, something which Rodgers was keen to downplay as he was bombarded with Ballotelli-related questions at his pre-match press conference.
“This is not the Mario Balotelli show,” Rodgers said, according to Sky Sports. He is a good player, a talented player. But he has got a lot of work to do here. We have a number of top-class players and the star of this team will always be the team.”
Balotelli was in the stands at his former home on Monday night as Liverpool went down 3-1 at Manchester City, a defeat which emphasized the challenges faced by the Merseysiders to repeat last season’s challenge for the title. Balotelli is just the latest in a long line of players to be brought in this summer to help try and overcome the loss of last season’s Premier League top scorer and strengthen a squad that will now have to cope with the demands of the Champions League. Alberto Moreno, Lazar Markovic, and Emre Can all made their competitive Liverpool debuts at the Etihad, joining Dejan Lovren and Javier Manquillo, who had made their bow a week earlier. On Sunday, there is likely to be a delayed first appearance for Adam Lallana, who has now shaken off an injury picked up in preseason.
“Adam will be in the squad, for sure,” Rodgers said, reports Liverpool’s official website. “Of course he is well short of match fitness but in training for the last couple of weeks he has been exceptional.”
If he does feature, Lallana will be going head-to-head with a team managed by a coach under whom he had a hugely successful 18-month spell at Southampton, Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentinian has already made a strong impression in his short time at White Hart Lane, having followed up a 1-0 victory over West Ham, despite being down to 10 men for much of the contest, with a 4-0 rout of Queens Park Rangers.
On Thursday, Tottenham secured qualification for the group phase of the Europa League with a 3-0 second leg win over Cypriot side Limassol. It was a match that saw first starts of the season for Andros Townsend, Sandro, Mousa Dembele and Vald Chiriches, although the rested Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Jan Vertonghen, Etienne Capoue and Nabil Bentaleb are all expected to come back into the starting lineup against Liverpool. Also in contention to start will be Federico Fazio, who completed an £8 million move from Sevilla this week. And Belgian midfielder Dembele believes the squad is in buoyant mood.
“It’s going to be a big game but we have some confidence after the results against QPR and AEL Limassol, so our preparations for the match are going well,” he said, according to Tottenham’s official website. “Liverpool will be confident as well as us but we’re playing at home and that is something positive for us. In our last two games we won at home and we did it quite well so we’re going to try and continue that form.”
Prediction: Liverpool started well at Manchester City on Monday, but were eventually blown away. Understandably, the signs are that it could take some time for the considerable amount of new players to form the same kind of cohesive unit that Rodgers had last season. Given his history, there could well be an instant impact from Balotelli, however. Whether that will be enough to get the better of Tottenham, though, is doubtful. Spurs have looked strong so far and could pick up an impressive early season win.
Tottenham 2-1 Liverpool
Kickoff time: 8.30 a.m. ET
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra