Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has admitted summer signing Mario Balotelli will never match Luis Suarez’s Anfield impact.
Rodgers backed the Italy striker to shrug off “unfair” criticism and end his six-game Premier League drought however, despite Balotelli missing another glorious chance in Sunday’s 3-2 win at QPR.
The Liverpool boss said Balotelli’s early Reds career has been blighted by comparisons with Uruguay forward Suarez, who completed a summer transfer to Barcelona.
The former Swansea manager bristled at suggestions Balotelli could have missed another sitter if Steven Caulker had not scored the decisive own goal.
“Wow, that’s being very unfair: an open goal, from six yards?” said Rodgers when quizzed if Balotelli would have converted the tap-in from Raheem Sterling’s cross. “Well okay, that’s harsh. It’ll drop for the boy.
“The most important thing for me is his work, the guy’s doing his best; he’s working really hard.
“It’s just not dropping for him at the moment, but I would have said he would have finished that, if young Steven Caulker had not turned it in.
“The criticism of him has been unfair, yes.
“And that’s because he’s probably seen as the direct replacement for Luis, and as I said before, Luis was irreplaceable and a real world-class talent.
“And that’s not what’s being asked of Mario. He’s not going to be what Luis was.
“Mario’s come into here, everyone knows him and they’ve seen him over his career, he’s a great boy, and I’ve really enjoyed working with him.
“He wants to improve and be better, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Liverpool sneaked to victory in west London courtesy of own goals from Caulker and Richard Dunne, plus a deflected effort from Philippe Coutinho. Eduardo Vargas twice equalised at the death for the impressive hosts, only for Sterling to force Caulker’s own goal and keep QPR at the bottom of the Premier League.
Suarez’s 31 goals propelled Liverpool’s title challenge last term, before the controversial forward bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. The lengthy ban that followed allowed him to push through his craved Barcelona move, and the 27-year-old is only now gearing up for his club debut against chief rivals Real Madrid this weekend.
Rodgers admitted Liverpool built their entire game plan around Suarez’s talents, and with Daniel Sturridge sidelined for another month, that has to change. Rodgers backed £16million AC Milan recruit Balotelli to emerge stronger after his slump, once Liverpool successfully shift their team “dynamic”.
“He’s not going to be what Suarez was: he’s a totally different type of player,” said Rodgers.
“Luis played on the shoulder, we freed up the team for him for a couple of years to exploit his qualities.
“Now we have to have a different dynamic and type of game, but (Balotelli) has got qualities, and he’s really focused on making sure that he’s concentrating on preparing himself to train and play.
“And then eventually the goals will come for him.”