Alex Saldanha sees the merits of Fabio Borini’s decision to stay at Liverpool and believes he fits perfectly into Brendan Rodgers’ most effective system.
For much of the summer it looked like Fabio Borini was heading to Anfield’s exit door. Sunderland made Liverpool an offer of £14 million — an offer the Reds’ couldn’t refuse, but Borini could and did.
Come deadline day and Sunderland’s interest had died down – clearly frustrated by the Italian’s unwillingness to move. Enter Queens Park Rangers with a last minute offer. Borini hadn’t played any role in Liverpool’s opening three games of the season — surely now it was time for him to move on? Again Borini didn’t agree and as the transfer window slammed shut at 23.00 he remained an Liverpool player.
For this many criticised him: “Where is the ambition?” they asked, “in contending yourself with sitting in reserve all season?”
However, what Borini showed is what fans should want in all Liverpool players. He recognised the magnitude of the club and the honour that comes with playing for it.
Instead of resigning himself to mid-table mediocrity Borini instead has shown huge levels of bottle and determination in staying at Liverpool and fighting for his place. An honourable attitude — he shouldn’t need to apologise for that.
So where does he fit in this season? Whilst it is true that he is behind Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli in the strikers’ pecking order, Borini could prove to be a valuable asset.
First let’s consider his season on loan at Sunderland. In 40 appearances he scored 10 goals. A respectable record, but not one that sparkles.It is only when the significance of Borini’s goals is considered that his stock rises.
First up was a screamer at the Stadium of Light against Newcastle United to give his side victory in the Tyne-Wear derby (he’d later repeat the trick with a penalty at St James’ Park).
He followed this with goals in the quarters, semis and final of Sunderland’s Capital One Cup run, before firing crucial goals at the tail end of the season (including a penalty winner at Stamford Bridge), heavily contributing towards the Black Cats great escape from relegation.
Consider this, along with the fact that for large parts of the season Borini was playing out wide for Sunderland and his tally begins to look impressive.
Sturridge was scoring at a similar ratio being played wide before coming to Liverpool. Look at his improvement.
Playing centrally for Liverpool, Borini will benefit both from being in the middle and having a better quality supply line which will create more chances for him. He may never hit the heights that Sturridge has hit but this should, naturally, see his goals to games ratio increase.
Now let’s move on to his performance on Tuesday night against Ludogorets in the Champions League. After being introduced as a 67th minute substitute, Borini played a large part in turning the game in Liverpool’s favour.
Admittedly this was largely due to the introduction of a midfield diamond which brings out the best in most of Liverpool’s players, but Borini made a significant contribution too.
Almost as soon as he got on the pitch Liverpool’s tempo raised. The Reds began to create greater opportunities and would eventually score two goals to win the match. Before Borini had come on Liverpool were a bit flat. He helped inject some real pace in to the team.
But perhaps most significantly his introduction immediately began to help Balotelli. Before Fabio was on the pitch Mario was far too isolated his teammates providing him with little support.
Balotelli’s movement was also questionable as too often he stood still wanting the ball at his feet when in fact what was required of him was a run into the box.
What Borini did was stretch the play, his movement creating space for Balotelli to exploit. It is no coincidence that Balotelli’s goal, as brilliant as the finish was, came after Borini’s introduction.
After Tuesday night’s performance Reds fans should expect to see more of Borini as the season progresses. In the absence of Sturridge he deserves his chance to prove himself as partner to Balotelli.
It has so far been obvious this season that Brendan Rodgers’ side operate best with a midfield diamond. Borini’s inclusion would allow this system to be played and, judging on the Ludogorets game, help to bring out the best in Balotelli.
His movement could prove to be vital to the side and he is sure to score goals given the correct service.
When Sturridge returns Borini could prove to be just as valuable as a substitute. You only need to look at last night’s game to see the impact he can provide off the bench.
In a long season Rodgers will also have to rotate his squad so expect him to have his fair share of starts even when both Sturridge and Balotelli are available.
Whilst his Anfield career may not have kick started yet, Borini has the potential to be an important squad member for Liverpool this season.
A scorer of big goals given the chances he could play a large role for the Reds this season. It is clear he has the passion and determination to make it for Liverpool (just look at his celebration for each of the Reds’ goals against Ludogorets). It is now time for him to step up.