How do Liverpool solve a problem like Mario Balotelli?
Mario Balotelli extended his goalless run in a Liverpool shirt on Wednesday night
Play Borini alongside Balotelli up front?
Having watched Mario Balotelli in the opening 10 games of his Liverpool career, it is obvious the Italy international needs players to be making runs around him to attract opposition defenders. Balotelli doesn’t make the same purposeful runs as Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, often remaining too static alongside his marker. Whilst the 24-year-old is going to need to improve this aspect of his game if the striker wants to salvage his Anfield career, it is clear the Italian needs a strike partner to share the workload. Brendan Rodgers’s options are limited, so the best candidate until Sturridge returns from injury is Fabio Borini. The former Sunderland striker scored seven goals playing alongside Connor Wickham during his loan at Stadium of Light last season. Borini is a willing runner of the channels which should help unclog the Liverpool midfield, raising the performances of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana. In recent weeks, Liverpool have looked stodgy and uninventive with Balotelli’s limited movement.
More coaching on the training ground – and time
Liverpool manager Rodgers will be ruefully remembering all that extra time spent on the training ground last season. The 41-year-old was able to embed his philosophy into the Liverpool side in the absence of European competition and helped by their early exits from the domestic cups. It is a vastly different story this season. Balotelli has played 10 games in 58 days since his £16m move to Anfield from AC Milan. Admittedly, his omission from Antonio Conte’s Italy squad afforded the former Manchester City striker the chance to remain at Melwood. However, many members of the squad were away on international duty, denying Balotelli time to get to his know the subtleties of his team-mates. Graeme Souness suggested Balotelli isn’t seeing the football picture: “His movement is non-existent. I’m wondering if he just doesn’t see the picture when to move or when to stand still – it is the simple thing to put right”. Only time on the training ground will help Balotelli see the Liverpool philosophy clearer.
Hope Balotelli improves when Sturridge returns
It is easy to point the finger at Rodgers for signing Balotelli as a replacement for Luis Suarez. The Liverpool manager has already quashed comparisons between the two strikers, and whoever moved to Anfield in the summer, be it Balotelli or Radamel Falcao, they were going to struggle to fill the 31-goal void Suarez left behind. But what tends to be forgotten is Sturridge’s continued injury absence. The 25-year-old is nursing a calf problem which he suffered returning from a thigh injury picked up on England duty. It means the former Chelsea striker has played one game with Balotelli since the Italian joined Liverpool. While it would be inaccurate to say Balotelli was anywhere near the standout performer at White Hart Lane, he did play his part as Liverpool were 3-0 winners against Tottenham Hotspur. He combined well with Sterling and Sturridge, who were making runs off target man Balotelli. It worked. Rodgers will want to explore a potential partnership between the pair before making a final judgement on Balotelli.
Bring in Origi early
Let’s not forget that Liverpool did sign more than one striker this summer. Rickie Lambert is, as expected, playing the role of impact substitute after sealing a dream move to his boyhood club at the age of 32. It was the capture of Divock Origi that excited Liverpool supporters after his superb World Cup. The Reds had a £12m bid accepted by Lille for the 19-year-old, loaning the striker back to the Ligue 1 outfit as part of the agreement. The Belgium international has impressed in France, scoring three goals and making one assist in eight appearances. With Balotelli underwhelming and Sturridge struggling to stay injury-free, Origi could be the answer. Certainly Michael Owen thinks so: “If I was Brendan Rodgers I would pay an extra few million and try to get Origi to the club six months earlier than originally agreed.”
Do a ‘Robbie Keane’
Jamie Redknapp was quick to defend his former Tottenham team-mate Robbie Keane when Jamie Carragher mentioned the Irishman in the same sentence as Balotelli on Sky Sports last night. But the former Liverpool midfielder was missing Carragher’s point; he wasn’t suggesting Balotelli’s poor work ethic mirrored Keane’s during his time at Liverpool. No, Carragher was pointing out that there was precedent at the club for selling a big-money signing in January just months into his Anfield career. Former Reds manager Rafael Benitez was quick to realise Keane didn’t fit into his vision and managed to negotiate a deal to sell Keane back to Spurs in 2010. The Republic of Ireland international was never going to struggle to attract clubs thanks to his proven goal-scoring pedigree and leadership qualities. Balotelli doesn’t have a CV boasting glowing references from former clubs, while one goal in 10 games tells a story. There won’t be a host of top clubs willing to spend big on the troublesome striker.