Amidst Liverpool’s dire start to the season a lot of criticism has been hurled towards summer signing Mario Balotelli. The hot-headed striker has failed to score in any of his Premier League starts and has been criticised for his lackadaisical approach. But is his form – or lack of it – distracting us from a far larger problem currently looming over Anfield?
It would be extremely easy to point fingers at Balotelli, by simply taking a look at the Italian’s non-existent goal tally in the Premier League (0 goals in 7 starts) you can come to that conclusion. With many an open goal missed and many a counter attack destroyed by his shoot-first mentality; it is fair to say that the striker has hardly set the world alight since his return to England. But before we jump on to the anti-Mario bandwagon there are a few factors that we should take into account.
Rodgers initial plans were to play Balotelli and Sturridge together in a front two; we saw glimpses of what the pairing can do together in the 3-0 drubbing of Tottenham Hotspur early in the year at White Hart Lane – Liverpool’s finest collective performance of the season so far.
The unfortunate injury to Liverpool’s talismanic striker Daniel Sturridge earlier in the campaign has left Balotelli on his own upfront – a role that is not suited to the Italian’s style of play or Liverpool’s for the matter. Last year saw the Reds press teams relentlessly, not giving their opposition any time or space on the ball.
The 2013-14 season saw a front two of Suarez and Sturridge harassing defenders – the opportunistic Uruguayan being known for his work-rate since his early days at Dutch club Ajax. Daniel Sturridge on the other hand had been blasted by Chelsea and Manchester City fans alike over the years for his lazy and often selfish approach to the game, which left Liverpool fans wondering if they had signed the right man. However, these murmurs were quickly dismissed as Kopites were treated to a new-found work-rate from the England striker, enhancing his game significantly. Which prompts the question: can the England striker’s newly adopted mentality rub off on the problematic Italian or will his maverick attitude be too much too handle?
Due to the departure of last year’s Premier League player of the year and phantom biter Luis Suarez, Liverpool have had to look elsewhere for their goals. Disregarding the poor form of the Italian in question, the Merseysiders haven’t scored enough from elsewhere on the pitch – just six goals from midfield in 11 games. This mainly being down to the fact that Liverpool simply don’t have an outright goal-scoring midfielder; your Frank Lampard’s or your Paul Scholes’s – box to box players that will get you 10+ goals a season from deep. Until Liverpool start scoring more goals from all over the pitch, Balotelli will continue to take the flak.
For now, Liverpool fans can only hope to see more of this from the Italian: