Liverpool 2-1 Ludogorets: Seven things we learned

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Liverpool returned to the Champions League for the first time in five years and started the campaign with a 2-1 victory over Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad thanks to goals from Mario Balotelli and Steven Gerrard. 

Balotelli is settling

Liverpool's £16 million summer signing made it third time lucky and netted his first goal in a Red shirt. 

After two decent games against Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, Liverpool have needed that little bit extra from Balotelli and he certainly delivered.

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The Italian was lively in the first half and really linked up well with the forward men of Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, holding the ball up well and showing some neat lay-offs with his feet and chest.

His finish in the 82nd minute was a very smart finish smart one from eight yards out, and he showed superb character to win the ball from the two centre-halves.

His work rate again was phenomenal and unlike at other clubs, it seems that the striker is really enjoying his football on Merseyside now. If he continues his good form, goals will well and truly come

However, he needs more service

For what Balotelli done when he was in the game, he was one of, if not, Liverpool's best player on the pitch.

Yet there were times when he needed to be used more. On multiple occasions when the ball was played into the 24-year-old, he looked sharp and battled when creating attacks for his side.

Unfortunately this did not happen enough throughout the game.

If Liverpool utilize Balotelli's talents more often them they will create more chances from both he and his team-mates.

He also needs a strike partner

When Fabio Borini came on to join Balotelli up front, the pair linked up extremely well. 

It allowed Balotelli more freedom when up top and we saw him drop deeper to receive the ball and run at defenders, instead of being isolated leading the line.

With Borini on the pitch, the former Inter Milan man looked more mobile and a much bigger threat. He netted once and had another shot saved - the positive, attacking football is what Liverpool fans want to see from him.

Against Tottenham, Balotelli linked well with Daniel Sturridge and they should continue their partnership when he returns from injury.

In the mean time, I'd like to see Rodgers start Rickie Lambert in Liverpool's next fixture against West Ham as it would allow Balotelli to repeat this again.

More width is needed

Throughout the first half, especially on the right-hand side, there was not enough play down the flanks.

Javier Manquillo would recieve the ball however he was forced to play inside instead of having a man parallel on the outside of him.

It was usually Adam Lallana who was on the inside and he was frustrating by not finding the space and not moving into the correct positions. At times, he was far too much up the field and was practically playing as a centre-forward.

Instead, he needed to give Manquillo a different option and that would have also freed up space for Philippe Coutinho to drive in to.

We saw that Liverpool's first goal came via a cross out wide from Alberto Moreno.

The Spaniard was crying out for the ball on the touchline throughout the game, however he was extremely under-used as the Reds tried to work the ball through the middle.

Lallana or Coutinho

Against both Aston Villa and Ludogarets, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho have both played. Assessing the two games, it seems that Brendan Rodgers now needs to pick either one or the other.

The two are too similar in their styles and often found themselves in similar positions.

To counter this, it was forcing one to drop a bit deeper where they looked uncomfortable and lost the ball too easily.

Both had a poor game however I'd say Lallana was the better of the two as he was busy during the first half and worked hard.

Coutinho has had a terrible start to this season - he doesn't look comfortable at all on the ball and is hitting passes that end up to an opponent more often than not. He needs to settle down and maybe go back to basics before trying his fancy tricks again.

Same defensive problem

Another game, another Liverpool defensive error.

Ludogorets equalised in injury time and it looked like they were going to steal a point at Anfield.

The goal come from Liverpool being poor at the back. It was a simple through ball that cut the defence open and allowed Abalo Paulos to finish the ball.

Alberto Moreno was caught too far forward in the build up to the goal. With so little time on the cross, I do not understand why he was bombing into the opposition side instead should have put his defensive duties first and shutting up shop.

That forced Mamadou Sakho - who had a solid game - to cover the Spaniard and Dejan Lovren could not keep up with the away teams striker's run. Lovren was punished for ball watching in the process and lost his man too easily.

As for goalkeeper Simone Mignolet, there was no need form him to close the striker down. He had two defenders around him and should have remained in his net and if Paulos scored then it was hats off to him.

The European nights are still top draw

Anfield is known for excitement during European clashes and once again we had the same after a five year absence.

'You'll Never Walk Alone' was belted in full fashion and the crowd were singing throughout the game despite it being frustrating at times.

It had to be Steven Gerrard, arguable Liverpool's greatest ever player to win the three points for his side.

He calmly slotted away his penalty in the 92nd minute after Javier Manquillo was brought down by the Ludogorets goalkeeper with just seconds left on the clock. Anfield erupted, so much so that fans didn't even have a chance to cry out their famous song once again.

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Mario Balotelli
UEFA Champions League
Steven Gerrard
Premier League

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