Liverpool legend John Aldridge insists that under fire Mario Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge must play together to help forge a successful partnership, but is he right?
The Reds face a stern test in the Premier League on Sunday when they travel to high-flying Southampton. But despite the importance of the clash Aldridge feels it is right for Brendan Rodgers to play his strongest possible team against the Turkish outfit.
And with Balotelli showing signs of coming back into form and Sturridge looking like he is over his injury problems, Aldridge says now is the time to see whether they can really play together.
“I’d attack them by playing Mario Balotelli alongside Daniel Sturridge in attack. I think this game, a home game against a team that will be wary of Anfield, is the perfect opportunity to see if that partnership can develop,” Aldridge told the Liverpool Echo.
“We saw against Spurs, and in the second half against Crystal Palace last weekend, that there are signs of a relationship there. Sturridge was a lot better once Balotelli was on the pitch, scoring a brilliant goal, and the Italian has had a positive impact in his last two games off the bench. Let’s see what he can do from the start against the Turks.
“Obviously, that would mean a reconfiguration of the team elsewhere. It is unclear yet whether Raheem Sterling will be fit to play against Besiktas or even Southampton, and the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana have made big contributions of late,” he added.
Balotelli and Sturridge showed they can play together after dangerously linking up early on in the season against Tottenham in the 3-0 win at White Hart Lane, in what was arguably the Italian’s best performance in a Reds shirt.
But injury for five months of the campaign robbed Liverpool of the opportunity to see how far that fledgling relationship could blossom. Balotelli’s poor form and lack of goals has been well documented but he has suffered more than anyone with Sturridge’s absence.
The England forward creates space for Balotelli with his clever movement and pace, while having the creativity to pick out the kind of pass the former Manchester City star thrives on.
Balotelli, for his part, while not as mobile, can occupy defenders and offer a more physical approach that is based on playing from a more central position, which allows Sturridge the freedom to drift in the pockets around his teammate.
The only drawback would be removing Sterling from playing in his newly adapted striking role, which he has performed well in. Like Sturridge, he stretches defences with his pace and ability to run at players, but is not a proven goalscorer.
Perhaps the solution for Rodgers is playing Balotelli up-front with Sturridge and Sterling in close support. That would certainly give Besiktas plenty to think about.