Mario Balotelli scored his first goal in a Liverpool shirt yesterday evening, but his 82nd minute strike versus Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets Razgrad overshadowed a largely disappointing performance.
It took the £16 million summer signing three appearances to net for the club, with the return of Champions League football at Anfield offering him with the perfect platform to open his account.
However, the 24-year-old’s display consisted of a mere physical battle, during which he enjoyed the occasional half-chance in the 18-yard-box.
He grew increasingly frustrated with his lack of opportunities throughout 90 minutes, and it became abundantly clear that he is experiencing difficulties adapting to Brendan Rodgers’ system and the Liverpool style of play.
Last season the Reds thrived thanks to their fast-paced, counter-attacking style, with Luis Suarez and Sturridge leading the line. We grew used to fierce attacking spells that caused tremendous destruction to even the Premier League’s most adept defences.
Suarez’s departure has of course had an impact, while Daniel Sturridge’s absence has further hindered the intuitive understanding in the Liverpool attack. However, the contrasting styles of players old and new offer the most suitable explanation for the current difficulties the team are facing in break down opposition defences.
There’s no doubt Balotelli produced a fantastic finish, and after all, this is what he has been brought in for. He is a clinical player, if the ball is given to his feet, but unlike Sturridge, he is not prepared to run the channels, or create movement across the box.
The team have struggled in the England international’s absence, simply due Balotelli’s lack of mobility, and this has been reflected in recent scorelines.
The Merseyside outfit came close to securing the services of French international striker Loic Remy, prior to his £10.5 million summer move to Chelsea. However, the club decided to pull plug on the 26-year-old’s transfer late on in the process, citing a problem encountered during his medical.
It took the Frenchman just nine minutes to score his first goal for the Blues, sweeping home a square pass from Brazilian playmaker Oscar, compared to the 214 of Balotelli, and based on early impressions, it’s fair to suggest the former Queens Park Rangers’ forward would have been a more suitable addition to Brendan Rodgers’ side.
He is very fast, and like Sturridge, he poses the intelligence to attack space and run beyond opposition defences. He too, can play in a central role, or on the wings, like he has done for both club and country in previous seasons. Ultimately, he would have far more suitable to the Reds’ high-octane system.
Nonetheless, Rodgers has backed his summer signing to succeed, although he has expressed similar concerns in regard to his work ethic and movement.
“It was a wonderful finish,” the Northern Irishman told ITV. “We’ve said to him to get in the box more, that was important for him.
“He’s got great technique, sometimes when the ball’s in the wide areas he spends a lot of time outside of the box but when he’s in there, his strength and power to take the touch was a world-class finish.”
There’s no doubt Balotelli possesses the quality required to follow in the footsteps of some of the top strikers who have graced Anfield. After all, he has the ability to decide a game with one amazing moment, as he proved on Tuesday. The question is, can he do it on a regular basis?
Unfortunately, I feel the answer is no.