One of the main problems with Steven Gerrard's post-match comments on ITV--other than that they were completely embarrassing and unbefitting of a club captain--was that they distracted from another excellent performance by Mario Balotelli in the 1-0 win. The Italian striker scored the winner from the spot in the 85th minute after a brief back-and-forth with Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge, and produced another lively display off the bench, once again changing the match in Liverpool's favor and helping to secure a critical advantage heading into next week's second leg.
There will be no talk of disrespect here, only acknowledgement that it looks as though the 24-year-old is on his way to turning a corner under Brendan Rodgers. That would be true whether or not he had calmly slotted a pressure-packed penalty late in the match, as he managed to create some of Liverpool's most effective attacking play after coming on. That's been true in each of his past three appearances; he netted the winner against Spurs for his first Premier League goal, posed significant problems for the Crystal Palace defense and won the free-kick that led to Adam Lallana's goal, and, last night, was among the best on the pitch despite only featuring for half an hour.
No controversy to be found in his conversion of the penalty won by the equally impressive Jordon Ibe, and no problems had with another performance that indicates Mario Balotelli is finally finding his footing on Merseyside. He's got plenty of ground to make up given his struggles in the first half of the season, but with three straight influential displays as a substitute, he's certainly on the right track.
Video via i7xLFC