Mario Balotelli is yet to hit the ground running at Liverpool, and if his questionable attitude and patchy form continues, it won’t be long until Reds fans grow concerned, writes Henry Jackson.
When Mario Balotelli arrived at Liverpool towards the end of the summer transfer window, we as Liverpool fans all knew what we were letting ourselves in for.
There was a mixture of delight and apprehension when it was confirmed the 24-year-old would be joining the Reds, with some deeming him a genuine world-class talent with vast potential, and others seeing him as an overrated pain in the neck.
Balotelli’s opening month or so at the club probably falls closer to the latter category than the former, in all honesty.
He has found the net just once in his opening four games, against Ludogorets in the Champions League, but there can be no denying that he should have found the net far more.
He had two or three glorious opportunities in the 3-0 win away to Tottenham that he wasted, and he has had numerous good chances in other matches which he’s failed to bury too.
Phil Jagielka’s last-gasp strike for Everton on Saturday denied Brendan Rodgers’ side three points, but Balotelli’s glaring close-range miss with his side 1-0 up should have put the game to bed there and then. Football at the top level is ruthless, and if you’re supposedly a world-class striker those chances simply have to go in.
He will be judged on his goals, as Max Munton alluded to for Bleacher Report on Sunday:
Balotelli had previously provoked a rousing reaction from the Anfield faithful when he tracked back to make a tackle in midfield, the crowd seemingly encouraging this fight from the Italian, which is a far too rare occurrence.
Ultimately Balotelli’s success at Liverpool will be measured by the amount of goals he scores. His current tally of just one strike from six matches so far needs to be improved, and where better to begin that the Champions League tie at FC Basel this week?
He had 10 efforts on goal against the Toffees, three more than Roberto Martinez’s team combined. He has created just three chances for teammates and has won a tepid 29 percent of his duels with opposition players. He has had 63 shots in his last 20 Premier League games, scoring just once.
His movement and general hunger have lacked the pace and intelligence of the much-missed Daniel Sturridge, and too often his decision-making has been erratic and sloppy.
That’s not to say that the 33-time capped Italy striker has been a disaster, by any means. It is still early days, and against Everton, in particular, he showed good hold-up play, nice touches and an improved work-rate. The ingredients are all there for him to be a wonderful striker.
The point is, on the surface, Balotelli is part of a bigger plan to replace Luis Suarez; a player who is equally mercurial but who was a superstar at Anfield.
Suarez was no angel, we all know that, but his behaviour was always tolerated by Reds fans everywhere because he produced sensational performances week in, week out, culminating in him cleaning up at the various end-of-season award ceremonies last season.
The problem with Balotelli at the moment is that his naturally sulky style and confrontational attitude are more noticeable than his performances — in total contrast to Suarez — and that is a problem.
He has had several spats with numerous members of opposing teams in his short time on Merseyside, from Philippe Senderos to Tony Hibbert, and his natural demeanour can often look as though he couldn’t care less about doing his best for Rodgers and his men.
If the 24-year-old starts banging in the goals, and producing influential performances at the same time, all will be forgotten. At the moment though, he’s not spearheading Liverpool’s attack well enough.