Mario Balotelli signed for Liverpool last week, before their Blockbuster fixture with Premier League champions Manchester City. Balotelli signing for Liverpool shocked the Premier League, and is undoubtedly one of the biggest signings of the summer.
Mario arrives on Merseyside for a relatively low fee of just £16m, after 18 months of mixed fortunes at his boyhood club AC Milan. Despite the inevitable baggage which comes part and parcel with Balotelli, it is surely a risk worth taking for the Reds.
Balotelli put pen to paper just hours before the game with Manchester City and would not be eligible to play, having not been registered on time. In a game which ultimately Liverpool fell short in a number of key areas it’s hard not to imagine Balotelli wouldn’t have made a huge difference to Monday’s fixture.
Within Monday’s game itself it seemed clear Liverpool were an attacker short, with the diminutive Coutinho who played on the left wing much more adept at playing centrally in an attacking midfield role. As the world knows Luis Suarez left Liverpool this summer, who enjoyed a record breaking season with the Reds. Having played alongside Daniel Sturridge in a goal-laden season it was clear Liverpool’s number 15 played better with a partner.
Having now lost a striking partner, with Brendan Rodgers reverting his set formation to suit a lone striker role, Sturridge has struggled to be as involved in games as he would like. It is of no surprise he has scored and assisted in Liverpool’s games this season only when Rickie Lambert has entered the fray, providing a nuisance factor as much as anything.
Since Monday’s fixture Balotelli has made his Liverpool debut against Spurs at White Hart Lane on Sunday. Balotelli was deployed as a strike partner for Daniel Sturridge in a 442 diamond formation. While Balotelli missed three presentable chances for the Reds, his work rate off the ball and willingness to join in on Liverpool’s slick counter attacks was eye opening.
With the arrival of Balotelli, Liverpool will now be able to go back to their 442 diamond formation, a system which Liverpool won seven out of eight games from in the back end of last season for the Reds. While it may be the case either striker may sit out some games in a rotation system during the season, it is the arrival of such quality in depth which will be so heartening for Liverpool fans and managerial staff alike.
The Italian striker not only provides tactically flexibility and depth but undoubted quality and a winner’s mentality too. The Italian arrived on the scene at Internazionale in 2007 and soon became a teenage world star. In three seasons at the Italian giants he collected three Serie A winners’ medals, a Champions League medal, a Coppa Italia and a Supercoppa Italia.
Balotelli has undoubted ability and a range of skills which will greatly improve Liverpool in a number of areas. Yet it cannot be denied his scoring record has never been great, for a player of such ability. He has never scored more than 14 league goals in a season. His record at Milan – 30 in 54 games – is impressive but break it down and you’ll discover that of the 26 that came in Serie A, less than half (12) came from open play. The rest were penalties (9) and free kicks (5). Only a couple were against teams in Italy’s top four too.
His scoring record can be compared to that of Luis Suarez in the 2012/13 season. While Suarez may be now regarded as one of the most deadly strikers in the world his first year in particular at Liverpool wasn’t spectacular by any means, with a questionable strike rate leading to questions over the Uruguayans best position.
Suarez’ goals per 90 minutes in the 2012/13 season was 0.7 while comparatively Balotelli’s in the same season was 0.55. Shot accuracy from both players for the same season was also questionable – and starkly similar – Balotelli’s shot accuracy was 49% per 90 minutes while Suarez’ was 50% per 90 minutes. Both players by then already were renowned for undoubted ability but wastefulness too.
Through the management of Brendan Rodgers Suarez’ stats began to soar. In the 2013/14 season Brendan Rodgers’ management of Suarez was clear – the striker’s goals per 90 ration rose to 0.94. His accuracy only slightly improved though, taking the most shots in the Premier League by a distance – his shot accuracy was 53% per 90.
The comparison with Sturridge applies too. Sturridge arrived on Merseyside with a wealth of talent, yet with a reputation of petulance and a lack of focus too. While Sturridge had a goals per 90 of 0.54 in the 2012/13 – not a stellar output, it should be noted he only played seven games for the Blues that season.
When Sturridge went to Liverpool he was not only played consistently but utilised correctly, as the central striker. After he moved in January 2013 his goals per 90 went up to 0.83. In the following 2013/14 season, Sturridge’s goals per 90 stayed at 0.83, scoring 21 goals in 29 league games.
While Balotelli may prove a tougher task, precedence shows Brendan Rodgers close man-management has unlocked the ability of quality strikers in the past, and could prove fruitful with Balotelli in the future.
While nothing is guaranteed in football, in a market where Shane Long recently cost £12m, Balotelli at £16m is a risk Rodgers simply couldn’t turn down.