During the latter stages of last season, it became apparent through the reports of various media outlets that Fenway Sports Group were prepared to loosen the purse strings for Brendan Rodgers, and provide a summer “war chest”. This was in retaliation to the magnitude of Liverpool’s squad at the time and the fact that this small group of players would never be able to perform on both domestic and European fronts. Since then, nine new faces have crossed the threshold at Anfield with Liverpool attempting to bridge the gap in quality between themselves and the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City.
Of these nine new recruits, none had been greeted with the same enthusiasm and sheer excitement that Mario Balotelli found upon entering Melwood. The Italian was Liverpool’s response to perhaps the biggest movement in this year’s summer transfer window, Luis Suarez’s relocation to Cataluña. The purpose of my article is to undertake the unpleasant task of picking apart Mad Mario’s contributions thus far, and distinguish a few areas of weakness in the Italian’s game, as well as that of Liverpool in general.
A loss of identity
Luis Suarez’s aforementioned emigration represented more than just a potential reshuffle of personnel, rather, the Merseyside club was in danger of forfeiting their identity, one, which brought them to the cusp of glory last May. A trademark of Liverpool the previous season was ferociously paced starts to a game, accompanied by relentless pressure, technical magnificence and finishing of the highest class in the final third. Suarez was at the forefront of all these aspects, and the loss of the enigmatic Uruguayan required Brendan Rodgers to adequately replace all of his qualities, rather than bring in a direct replacement, because quite frankly there was no footballer available to Liverpool who could have been realistically attained at the time.
During the World Cup in Brazil, the name pulsing through conversations of Reds fans all across the globe was Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean was made surplus to requirements by then club, Barcelona, something that came as a surprise given his sizzling form for club and country last season. However, it wasn’t meant to be, as Sanchez opted for a move to Arsenal instead of Liverpool - his decision being swayed by the Gunners’ European stability as well as the prospect of working under one of Europe’s most respected manager’s in Arsene Wenger.
The next marksman on the radar of Brendan Rodgers was Queens Park Rangers’ want away Frenchman, Loic Remy. Liverpool subsequently triggered his release clause, but this deal too fell through as a result of complications at the medical stage.
During this ordeal, Liverpool were on their pre-season tour of America and were scheduled to square up with AC Milan. In the build up to this game, Rodgers praised a certain Mario Balotelli and media outlets did what they do best and struck up a transfer story, linking the Italian with a move to Anfield. In response to this, Rodgers “categorically” ruled out any chance of this proposed deal coming to fruition.
If we take a look at both Sanchez and Remy, they are similar in many regards. They are both pacey, energetic footballers that are capable of playing either as a striker or out wide. These attributes, among others, proved that they would be able to fit into Rodgers’ attacking philosophy seamlessly. Comparatively, Balotelli whom Liverpool eventually ended up with fulfills none of these traits. As Jamie Carragher aptly put it in his column, the greatest attribute of Liverpool’s forward play last season was intensity. Suarez, Sturridge and co would not allow the opposition to settle for even a single moment, harrying and hassling them until the ball was eventually pried away from their desperate grasp. While his work rate has marginally improved, Balotelli just isn’t able to press with the same vigor and ferocity as his predecessor. However, it is unfair to place all the blame squarely on Mario’s shoulders as Liverpool have, by and large, decreased the intensity of their pressing in every game this season with the exception of Spurs away.
Lack of movement
Liverpool’s attacks last season were reminiscent of fighter jets in formation, breaking with speed and finishing with deadly accuracy. Defenders would endure sleepless nights in the build up to their game against Liverpool, terrified at the thought of the movement of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling dragging them all over the place. On the other hand, Liverpool have been accused of being “toothless” in attack thus far, they have looked like a team of strangers-startling considering the tight knit nature of the squad last season. Their cohesiveness, incisiveness and panache all seem a thing of the past, and they have looked short of ideas in the final third. A glaring deficiency in Mario Balotelli’s game is his lack of movement in and around the penalty area. Where Suarez of Sturridge would look to play a quick one-two and spin off the shoulder of the defender, Mario likes the play to be in front of him, and more often then not, takes a few touches before releasing a shot. This tactic has been clearly unsuccessful, bearing in mind his conversation rate across all competitions this season lies at a paltry 5.27%.
Liverpool have been incredibly unfortunate in the injury department thus far, losing Joe Allen, Emre Can and Daniel Sturridge to injuries sustained on international duty. During Balotelli’s debut at White Hart Lane, himself and Sturridge linked up reasonably well with one another and the pair of them created a couple of chances. Perhaps with Sturridge in the picture, we will have a clearer indication of whether Balotelli’s stay at Anfield will be one of rejoice or regret. I may be accused of being a bit harsh on the unpredictable Italian during his first few weeks at Liverpool, however he hasn’t showed much to justify Brendan Rodgers’ decision in bringing him to the club. Balotelli will certainly have to stake a claim for his place in this Liverpool side, with loanee Divock Origi setting Ligue 1 alight with an array of impressive performances. Liverpool fans the world over will harbor immense hope that this is not yet another chapter of madness, volatility and above all, disappointment in the brazen book of Mario Balotelli.
By Hamzah Ebrahim – Liverpool fan – @