Balotelli brings out Liverpool's best in 3-0 win
(Raheem Sterling 8, Steven Gerrard 49-pen, Alberto Moreno 60)
In the end, the return of Mario Balotelli was overshadowed by the return of the Reds.
Perhaps one provided the inspirational spark for the other. The Liverpool debutant was an intimidating force at White Hart Lane, but the wonderful invention was a collective effort.
Maybe the enigmatic Italian served as a defibrillator because his teammates found their pulse last night.
Liverpool's campaign roared into life with an easy 3-0 victory as their Tottenham opponents threatened to flat-line.
Early talk of Spurs being legitimate title challengers now seems as ridiculous as the suggestion of an Anfield demise.
Liverpool are by no means the finished article, but articles claiming they are finished appear misinformed.
The Reds are ready to challenge once more, with the bruising Balotelli eager to play a part in their resurgence.
The mercurial striker didn't score, but he had a direct involvement in five clear-cut chances and might have had a hat-trick by half-time.
He bullied Eric Dier, pulled Younes Kaboul around and flexed his muscles against Tottenham's nondescript defensive midfielders.
Balotelli wasn't quite brilliant, but he was no less enigmatic. You couldn't take your eyes off him and he knew it, keeping his teammates waiting at the start of both halves before strutting out onto the pitch.
Every Premier League stage is a theatre for Balotelli. He has a part to play that will both entertain the Anfield faithful and occasionally infuriate his manager Brendan Rodgers. He is always going to be a magnet for both the magnificent and the malignant.
But he was a positive influence. His swagger proved infectious; his arrogance was catching in the camp.
For the first time this season, Liverpool displayed the counter-attacking cockiness that defined their previous campaign.
Their fast, incisive opener from Raheem Sterling was topped by an extraordinary, lung-busting solo effort from Alberto Moreno. Those goals were sandwiched either side of a Steven Gerrard penalty.
Dier's arms certainly caught Joe Allen in the box, but the Liverpool midfielder made a 10-course wedding banquet meal of the minimal contact; perhaps the only sour note of the match.
Brendan Rodgers' decision to revert to his favoured midfield diamond to accommodate Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge proved a masterstroke.
With Gerrard at the base, Sterling was free to expose Tottenham's stubborn, perennial problem - there's still a need for speed through Spurs' spine.
They really were quite dreadful.
In fact, inflated expectations before the game defined all that is wrong with the modern game and the incessant 24-hour football news cycle.
Mauricio Pochettino has been hailed for establishing a refreshing, radical template, righting the wrongs caused by the madcap Tim Sherwood and the erratic Andre Villas-Boas.
The Argentinian had been praised for steering the rudderless ship into calm waters and perhaps navigating a course towards the summit.
Before last night, Spurs had played just two Premier League games - against West Ham and Queens Park Rangers, hardly reliable barometers to measure a side's progress.
As always, the hype was premature.
Four games played before Liverpool, four games won, 10 goals scored and only one conceded were decent statistics, even allowing for the fact AEL Limassol provided the opposition in two of the games, but the Reds offered the first test and no boxes were ticked.
Christian Eriksen was sighted only when he was substituted and Erik Lamela endured one of those nightmarish matches that blighted his previous season.
Tottenham looked tentative, slow and predictable again.
Balotelli's physique threatened on and off the ball. Sterling's trickery terrified and Liverpool's incisive counter-attacking always challenged Spurs' high line.
Pace often undid Pochettino's high line at Southampton and Liverpool's persistent pressing made a poor case for Tottenham's defence. Spurs' approach depends on quick, penetrative counter-attacking, which was lacking in their ponderous midfield.
Nacer Chadli's half-volleyed effort in the 42nd minute was the home side's only shot on target in the first half and they were little better in the second.
Pochettino seems the right man, but he doesn't have all the right men around him.
Liverpool, on the other hand, pressed with impunity. Without exaggeration, the final score might have been doubled. Spurs were spared only by Rodgers withdrawing key contributors, including Balotelli who departed to a standing ovation on the hour mark.
Their job was done, in considerable style and comfort. Rodgers will hope that this victory marks a fresh beginning for both his new signing and his season.
Balotelli is back. And so are Liverpool.