Balotelli scores: was it biggest goal of the season for Liverpool?
The Italian finally makes his mark at Anfield to set up an epic battle for the Champions League
Liverpool 3 Spurs 2. Mario Balotelli finally made his mark for Liverpool as he scored his first Premier League goal of the season to sink Spurs, steal some of the limelight from boy wonder Harry Kane and possibly set up one of the most exciting conclusions to a Premier League season ever seen.
Balotelli was his usual enigmatic self after coming off the Anfield bench to tap home an 83rd minute winner. He did not celebrate his strike, even though it was only his third goal of the season and his first since October, and he left the field without acknowledging the Kop at the final whistle.
But the mask slipped after the match, when he posted a picture of himself grinning from ear to ear on Instagram with the message apparently thanking those who had supported him during what has been a difficult season.
A photo posted by Mario Balotelli (@mb459) on Feb 10, 2015 at 2:46pm PST
And well he might be pleased with himself. Not only had Balotelli "defied expectations and six months of exasperation to be the matchwinner against Tottenham", says the Daily Telegraph, but he had also scored "what might become one of the most important goals of Liverpool's season", which shifts momentum towards the Reds in the battle for a top-four finish.
This was a crucial game for Liverpool as defeat would have left them well adrift of the European places. The dramatic win means Brendan Rodgers's team remain seventh in the table with 42 points, one point behind Spurs in sixth. But they are now just three behind Southampton in third.
"The tussle to qualify for next season's Champions League has the potential to be far more breathless than the title race," says the Telegraph. "While Chelsea are in danger of disappearing over the horizon, with only Manchester City in their rear-view mirrors, the battle to claim the other two spots in the top four is turning into a five-way fight which is impossible to call."
But things could get even tighter than that. If second-placed Man City, on 49 points but without a win in four, slip up against Stoke tonight then there could be six clubs contesting three Champions League places as the season reaches its climax.
Even before Balotelli's dramatic intervention the game had been a fine advert for the Premier League on the day that a record-breaking £5.1bn TV rights deal was announced. It was "an exhausting, thrilling match", says The Times. Spurs twice fell behind, to goals from Lazar Markovic and Steven Gerrard, who struck a second half penalty, but both times they recovered, first through the "irrepresible" Kane and then Mousa Dembele, "but there was no way back once Balotelli struck with seven minutes remaining", says the paper.