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Liverpool 3, Tottenham 2: It Was Always Balotelli

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A late winner from Liverpool's much-maligned striker salvaged a win from a scrappy, sloppy match from both sides.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Liverpool 3 Markovic 15', Gerrard (pen.) 53', Balotelli 83'
Tottenham 2 Kane 26', Dembele 61'

It was exciting. It was agonizing. It was fun. It was stressful. In a word, it was Liverpool. That's how today's match against Tottenham Hotspur went, and for long stretched of the match it seemed it would end in nothing but disappointment for Liverpool fans. Then came an unlikely hero, and all three points were saved as Liverpool walked out 3-2 winners.

The first half was extremely frustrating for Liverpool fans to watch. Things got off to a fantastic start, with Liverpool tearing the Spurs defense apart time and again with clever runs and movement, and they finally found a breakthrough just 15 minutes in. Jordon Ibe tore up Danny Rose a second time after beating him just moments earlier, and his run opened up space for Daniel Sturridge and Lazar Markovic to exploit. The ball found Sturridge, who knocked it on to Markovic, and Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris was left blaming a lump in the grass for his inability to make a simple save.

Then something weird happened. A few minutes after scoring, and after creating a couple more chances after Markovic's goal, Liverpool just kind of ... stopped. They didn't stop playing, certainly, but they almost entirely stopped utilizing the pressing and runs that had given Spurs such massive fits early in the match. With their disappearance also went all the shaky back passes that had given Liverpool chances, and Tottenham were finally able to take a breath and work their way in to the match.

That most Liverpool dearly before too long. Steven Gerrard and Mamadou Sakho managed to both completely lose Harry Kane in the middle of a combination move orchestrated by Erik Lamela, and the young English striker had all the space he needed to score. Even then, you could argue that Simon Mignolet could have done better on a shot that was hit basically right at him. No matter who you blame, though, the end result is the same: the score was equalized.

Things would struggle on through the rest of the half, each side getting a couple more chances but never coming close to scoring but for one exception. Sturridge had an audacious backheel flip right in front of goal that somehow, some way, cracked off the post and away, marking the third straight match that Liverpool have had what looked a sure goal denied by the woodwork.

The second half started out seemingly well in Spurs' favor, but Liverpool started clawing back before too long. After Ibe beat Rose like a red-headed stepchild for the umpteenth time in the match in the 51st minute, the young winger pulled the ball back to the edge of the box for Sturridge to run on to, exploiting the space Ibe's decimation of Rose had left. Rose's desperate effort to make good came for naught, clattering Sturrdge and earning Liverpool a sure penalty, albeit one that referee Phil Dowd seemed disinclined to grant until his linesman very emphatically waved for it.

Up stepped Steven Gerrard, and his cannoned shot beat Lloris to the top corner. The French keeper had the spot guessed, but Gerrard's shot was struck so hard it didn't much matter. If Lloris had actually gotten a hand to it, he probably would have lost the hand.

Of course, Liverpool being Liverpool, celebrations can't last long.

A questionable free kick was granted to Spurs some 25 yards from goal, and Liverpool did very poorly in their effort to deal with it. Kane's initial stab at putting it in to goal was denied, but Moussa Dembele was there to thrust it home and even the score again. After the grumbling about Dowd's decision making on awarding the foul in the first place - Gerrard was whistled and booked for cleanly winning the ball - the fact that both Kane and Dembele seemed to be offside when Christian Eriksen's free kick was sent in didn't make Liverpool fans any happier.

The match entered another grinding phase from there, with both teams trying to find an equalizer as legs wore down. Gerrard had to come off with a tight hamstring, but plugging Dejan Lovren in to defense to bring Emre Can's energy and ability to roam between lines to midfield helped Liverpool immensely, especially with Tottenham's midfield pivot already struggling with Jordan Henderson. Then Brendan Rodgers' decision to bring on Mario Balotelli and then Adam Lallana for Sturridge and Markovic proved to be the key that unlocked the match.

The two removed attackers had both been wearing down badly ever since halftime, and Balotelli's ability to exploit space up top coupled with Ibe's continued shredding of Rose and Lallana's high work rate in attacking midfield left Balotelli plenty of space to work with. You could feel something was about to snap for Spurs, and it wasn't long until Lallana was able to lay off a ball for Balotelli to finish as a simple tap-in and Anfield exploded with minutes left to play.

This match wasn't easy to watch or experience. It was difficult to take in at times and frequently frustrating. There were times that it would have been easier and more gratifying to walk away and do something else instead of watch what was happening on the pitch. But in the end, Liverpool found a way to win, and better yet, they did it by Mario Balotelli finally breaking his Premier League duck.

After such a miserable start to the season, Liverpool are now just three points out of third place. It's been one hell of a turnaround - let's see how much farther it can go.