Sometimes it is tough to watch Alexis Sanchez score for Arsenal knowing he could have been spearing in those goals for Liverpool. Rogers came close to signing him but not close enough. That is unfortunate because Sanchez has brought precision, speed, an unwavering work ethic along with a hunger for goal. I wish him continued success.
Enter Mario Balotelli.
After only one goal in over a dozen odd games, Liverpool FC fans, like myself, are wondering if the Mario Balotelli experiment is over before it has really begun. The English media is all over the young attacker questioning his passion, his effort, his shirt size, and commitment to the team.
From the empirical perspective, watching games first hand, there is no doubt about his skill. He has a deft touch with the ball, possesses excellent vision, but it appears combined with an average work rate. What he lacks, clearly, is the killer instinct of a classic number nine. I’m going to spare you the obvious comparison to the Suarez (one of the top-5 strikers on the planet) but how about a direct comparison to Diego Costa, Chelsea’s newest striker. Costa has taken the 18-yard box by storm since arriving this season. His predatory instincts, ability to manage the ball within his own feet, and knack for getting off a strike on goal has been nothing short of stunning to watch. Costa is decisive, committed and lethal when given the chance. He is, by all accounts, a true number nine. Balotelli? I’m beginning to wonder.
Though Balotelli’s number 45 shirt (four plus five is nine) represents how he thinks of himself, all it takes is a few minutes of YouTube research and some intelligent game-watching to present a slightly different case for his innate position. Based on what I’ve seen, perhaps Mario is better suited for the attacking midfield role.
I bumped into an article stating just that point and the argument goes over quite well. In the numerous highlight reels from Balotelli’s past, the majority of his strikes are from medium to long range. Watch Balotelli in the open field, he lays off balls with one-touch grace, he rarely takes the ball at an opponent, preferring to either spin off or work around them with cohesive team build-up play. THAT is Balotelli’s forte, the ability to move intelligently outside the box where he has space. The likelihood of a dramatic tactical shift along those lines is remote so what else can work?
Rogers has been forced to play the solo striker in the classic 4-2-3-1 formation which, based on production numbers alone, doesn’t suit Balotelli’s prowess. Rogers is deferring to the formation, presumably, because he’s nervous about the shaky defense and prefers to see the opponent’s game plan while leaning on the defensive luxury of two deep midfield players. That seemed to work for the last two EPL games but, alas, it wasn’t enough to beat elusive Hull City. Rogers finally threw Lambert up front with Balotelli, opting for the successful diamond midfield and the game changed dramatically. Chances came thick and fast as players seemed to settle comfortably into their roles, moved with focused precision and high energy. More than anything, the players looked comfortable. Unfortunately, Liverpool simply ran out of time to capitalize on the late positive change.
So things continue with Mario Balotelli at the helm, for better or worse – at least until Sturridge returns. My vote remains entirely behind Rogers and his ability to cultivate the most from players. While the lack of goal scoring from Balotelli grows more concerning be the week, that may remedy upon the return of the second highest goal scorer in the EPL last. Sturridge and Balotelli may be a powerful partnership.
This Liverpool FC season continues to be one of patient frustration. I’m not going anywhere as a fan and believe there is plenty of time to do some damage in the EPL and perhaps even snatch a chance at some hardware. But, if I’m honest, doesn’t look like we’re doing much in the Champions League this season. Just too many quality teams preventing consistent results.