Anyone questioning Liverpool’s purchase of controversial Italian striker Mario Balotelli need only glance at Manchester City’s scoresheet on Monday to understand why firepower up front could be crucial to determining this season’s Premier League.
The Merseysiders, runners-up to City last season in one of the tightest top-flight campaigns in recent memory, looked to be comfortably keeping the champions at bay when three goals in 25 minutes at Etihad Stadium shattered any illusions.
The first two came from striker Stevan Jovetic, who had a forgettable first season in England after arriving from Fiorentina due to injury, but was given his chance after impressing in pre-season.
He rewarded manager Manuel Pellegrini with strikes either side of halftime before Sergio Aguero, still working his way back to full fitness, hit the back of the net 23 seconds after replacing Edin Dzeko up front.
With Alvaro Negredo still fighting to be fit after breaking his foot, City have an embarrassment of attacking riches that should threaten the best defences in Europe and make them one of the favourites for this season’s league title.
Despite that, Pellegrini was keen to emphasise the whole team effort against a side that beat them 3-2 in April.
“We worked the whole game and played a very good team,” the Chilean told the BBC.
“We worked without the ball for 95 minutes and with the ball we made enough danger to score three goals.
“When you play against a strong team you have to concentrate and our concentration and intensity was good. It’s so important to get six points from our first two games as it was a very difficult start for us.”
As Liverpool went close to ending a 24-year title drought last season, their attacking duo of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge caused their own brand of chaos, netting 52 league goals between them.
After Suarez’s World Cup disgrace, kicked out of the tournament for biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, he was sold to Barcelona.
His sale has funded the arrival of nine new players, the latest being 24-year-old Balotelli from AC Milan, who can excite and anger in equal measure.
Liverpool will be desperate for him to hit the ground running, as despite plenty of ball they failed to seriously trouble City keeper Joe Hart until Pablo Zabaleta’s late own goal.
Another top-class striker is clearly needed at Anfield to take some of the burden off Sturridge, despite the likes of Raheem Sterling increasing his attacking threat by the week.
Manager Brendan Rodgers said taking a chance on Balotelli for a reported 16 million pounds ($26.52 million) was one worth taking – his pace, power and touch compensating for an infuriating habit of going missing in matches and playing up off the pitch.
“There is excitement with him coming in,” he told Sky Sports. “I am certainly looking forward to working with him. He has that self belief and football arrogance on the field. Luis has gone, he was a wonderful talent but now we have to look to the future and hopefully Mario can contribute to what we are doing.
“Mario knows his flaws and knows his faults but there is no better club for him. He has to fit into what we do here. Time will tell. Of course it was a risk, I won’t sit here and say it wasn’t. He is a big talent but he has to fit into our culture and hopefully that help him improve as a person and a player.”