Reds hot again
(Markovic 15, Gerrard 53-pen, Balotelli 83)
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2
(Kane 26, Dembele 61)
Out of nowhere, Liverpool got right back in the hunt for a top-four spot.
All of a sudden, the Reds are the Premiership's form team.
From their first 17 league matches, Brendan Rodgers could coax only six victories out of his charges. Now, following yesterday morning's (Singapore time) 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur, they have managed six wins during a nine-match unbeaten run.
Their tails are up, and their confidence higher than it has ever been this term.
All the evidence is pointing towards a complete recovery from the post-Suarez disorder.
The return of Daniel Sturridge from long-term injury has clearly given the club a lift.
For much of the last two months, without a reliable striker to count on (yesterday morning Raheem Sterling was not fielded as he was unfit), the team made do with makeshifts.
Sturridge, in his first start in more than five months, showed rustiness but also appetite at the same time.
His injuries had robbed him of game time, but not his natural movement and poise in the penalty box.
No, he didn't find the back of the net. But there were contributions from him to suggest he will be back to his best in no time.
Showing nifty footwork, he twisted and turned the Spurs defence inside out in the 52nd minute, eventually drawing a foul that earned the hosts a penalty. Skipper Steven Gerrard converted to help Liverpool go 2-1 in front.
There was also that audacious back-flick, on the stroke of half-time, that came back off the post.
A little more surprising than Sturridge's speed at getting back into the swing of things, though, was the emergence of Jordon Ibe.
Just 19, the former Wycombe Wanderers winger, like he did against Everton last week in his first start this season, thrived again under watchful eyes.
He performed his role of attacking wing back to almost perfection, dovetailing with right attacking midfielder Lazar Markovic to torture Spurs' left back Danny Rose.
Ibe dominated the flank, defending with diligence and attacking with verve, often going behind the Spurs backline to deliver the byeline crosses that goalkeepers dread.
In a match not lacking in technical players, he stood out with the most number of successful dribbles - six out of eight.
But neither Ibe nor Sturridge could grab centre-stage.
That was left for Mario Balotelli, whose impact was as quick as it was unexpected.
In many quarters, he had already been written off as a £16 million ($33m) waste of money, a brash young man who had lost his way.
Twelve league appearances yielded not a single goal.
But nine minutes after coming on as a 74th-minute substitute, the 24-year-old Italian expertly ghosted in behind his marker to divert Adam Lallana's cross into the net for his first league goal for the Reds since joining them last August.
This should do his battered self-belief some good.
He could even be Liverpool's pleasant surprise for the remainder of the season.
Certainly, with those around him playing at a much-higher level than they were before December, he can only get better.
Suddenly, the talk has shifted from speculation on Rodgers' possible dismissal to debate on Liverpool's chances to get back among the front four.
Anfield is buzzing again.
As it should be.
He scores, but why so glum?
GOAL: (Above) Balo's first league goal since his move to Liverpool. PHOTO: JASON CAIRNDUFF
CONGRATS: (Above) Sakho greets the nonsmiling hero. PHOTO: JASON CAIRNDUFF
POST-MATCH: (Above) A quiet exit. PHOTO: CARL RECINE/ACTIONIMAGES
NO SMILES: (Above) Important goal but no smiles, just a thumbs-up. PHOTO: CARL RECINE/ACTIONIMAGES
Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli chose not to celebrate his first Premier League goal for the club.
The Italy international showed no emotion after converting Adam Lallana's cross for the winner seven minutes from time in the 3-2 victory over top-four rivals Tottenham.
Considering the importance of the goal - not only to the team but also to Balotelli himself who has been waiting since his £16 million ($33m) move from AC Milan - there was nothing in the way of celebration.
At the final whistle he headed off down the tunnel without shaking hands with team-mates or opponents or acknowledging the fans who still back him despite his disappointing campaign.
"He is immensely happy. To get a winner at Anfield, I am sure he is happy," said Reds assistant manager Colin Pascoe, standing in for Brendan Rodgers who had left to catch a flight to Europe to watch a game.
"Mario knew he would have a part to play and he certainly did. He always works hard in training and recently he has been ill and he has had some knocks on his foot where he couldn't get his boot on.
"It is testament to himself, he kept going and got his reward.
Whether Balotelli's action was the result of some issues that may have been brewing, only Pascoe knows.
To the thousands of fans who watched his reaction after scoring would have had a different view.
- Wire Services.
"We gave many balls away and easy balls. We gave Liverpool the ball and they played on the counter-attack. But we deserved more from this game"
- Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino
HE CAN SMILE WHEN HE WANTS TO...
PHOTO: CARL RECINE/ACTIONIMAGES
Mario Balotelli declined interviews after the match but took to social media to have his say.
"Great game guys!!! This smile is ONLY for those that always belive and support me. Thank you. Forza Liverpool. But now head down and keep working hard. Tonight is past," was the message posted on Instagram alongside a picture of a beaming Balotelli. - PA Sport.