As if Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers did not have enough to worry about after being out-classed by Real Madrid he also found himself having to deal with another Mario Balotelli problem.
The 3-0 loss to the reigning European champions thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s first goal at Anfield – edging him within one of equalling Raul’s Champions League record of 71 – and two from striker Karim Benzema displayed a gulf in class in the first half.
What was not classy was Balotelli, who was replaced at the interval, swapping shirts with Pepe as they headed down the tunnel.
The misfiring Italy striker is giving his manager enough headaches with his disinterested displays and poor return of one goal in 10 appearances so the last thing the Northern Irishman needed was an additional workload of reprimanding the 24-year-old.
“We had an incident with a player last year (Mamadou Sakho swapped shirts with Samuel Eto’o during the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea last December) and that was something we dealt with internally,” said Rodgers.
“It is not something I stand for. If you want to do that you do it at the end of the game. It is something I will deal with tomorrow.”
On his decision to substitute Balotelli at half-time Rodgers added: “It was purely tactical. I felt we needed a bit more movement centrally to occupy the centre-halves and Raheem’s speed and movement would give us that.
“Adam Lallana came on and he was tireless. In the second half every single player was pressing and working wanting to get something from the game and for us the minimum here.
“Adam came on and did that very well. In fairness to Raheem playing in a position that was a bit alien to him he worked tirelessly all the way through and showed quality.”
Despite Real’s obvious brilliance after riding out a spell of Liverpool pressure for the first 20 minutes Rodgers felt the half-time scoreline was harsh on his side.
“I thought we started very well. We were aggressive in our pressing and our passing and we were coping very well until that period after they got the first goal until half-time,” he said.
“We conceded a disappointing first goal and the other two were sloppy and loose and nowhere near to what we would want. ”
“At 3-0 against a team that score so many goals and can be so dangerous it is a dangerous game.
“That first period we were very good but we conceded poor goals against a top side. “Second half we were technically much better, kept possession much better and were a threat.
“Overall I thought it was a bit harsh to be 3-0 down at half-time but the quality and speed of their game is at another level.”
Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti was more laid back about the shirt-swapping – but his side had just coasted to a third successive victory in Group B which puts them on the verge of qualifying with plenty spare.
“I think it is normal in football to change the shirt at the end,” he said. “I think it is nothing new. Sometimes the players change their shirt at half-time with the opponent. I don’t see a problem.”
Even less of an issue was their performance, as having the match wrapped up by half-time was ideal preparation for El Clasico against Barcelona on Saturday as he was able to substitute Ronaldo with 15 minutes to go.
“It was not something we agreed before. I noticed the impact he had on the game, he worked very hard, put in a lot of sprinting up and down the wing, so I just thought it was time to give him a rest,” he said.
“I think it has been a very important win and am happy we played very well. “We played some excellent football in a good atmosphere. We played a team that did its best to cause problems for us but we managed to prevail and play good football throughout.”