The Italian striker Mario Balotelli has been heavily under fire this season, and thus far the criticism peaked in the wake of Liverpool being hammered 3-0 on home soil by Real Madrid. A controversial swap of shirts took place as the half-time whistle went, obviously starring the charismatic striker.
Nonetheless, the Scouse-Italian mismatch isn't solely Balotelli's fault. Obviously he doesn't help himself by not converting chances and strolling around on the pitch in a careless manner, but personally I feel that his manager evades the cannon balls far more swiftly than he deserves. After all, he plays a major part in this conundrum.
1 - Positions and player roles
Luis Suárez and Danny Sturridge paired up to raise Liverpool's bid for a Champions League spot to a decent bid for the promised land at Merseyside - the league title. Helped by the likes of the quick-feeted modern-day attacker Raheem Sterling, they made Liverpool's attack scintiliating, unpredictable and fluid by rapid pass-and-move football few sides could deal with. The receipt was quick, accurate short passing and subsequently go on a quest for open spaces.
Mario Balotelli doesn't work like that. He's a powerful centre-forward with dynamite in his boots, but he doesn't really get the fluid football thing, and he hasn't ever looked like that kind of player either. The same applies for his striking colleague and fellow Liverpool summer signing Rickie Lambert, who fancies crosses rather than through-balls. The main question: Why on earth is Luis Suárez, who fitted Rodgers system perfectly, being replaced by players who differ that much from his style of play? Obviosly the Liverpool manager couldn't sign a player of the Uruguayan´s quality, but he could've, and should've, signed somebody of similiar style.
2 - The implicated Balotelli problem
From day one, Rodgers has, although not explicitly, lablelled Balotelly a problem, and a challenge. He has stated that the former Manchester City striker was a «calculated risk» all the way, and already in August pulled back the hammer of his criticism revolver. Quotes like «we can improve him as a player and help him mature» and «this is probably his last chance» surpassed Rogers' throat, and the even the «calculated risk» term saw daylight by then. Additionally, he expressed that Liverpool could «curb his flaws», on top of stating that the controversy-hunted number 45 wasn't really their number one target.
Balotelli is a player dependant on confidence, to some extent all players are. But how is he supposed to pick up any confidence from being treated as a problem? Why didn't Rodgers say something like «he was our number one», «he's what we need» and/or «I've been craving to get him on board»? With Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Malmö as a fair and rare exception, most players (or human beings in any position) don't exactly up their game by being treated as a misfit and a challenge to have around.
3 - The shirt swap fine
Balotelli isn't the first player to swap shirts with an opposing player at half time, neither is he the last, but most who do escape it with a bit of banter on social media, if they even get any attention at all. However, Rodgers in particular, doesn't seem to facy these half-time antics, and he fined Mamadou Sakho and Philippe Coutinho for swapping shirts with Samuel Eto'o and Oscar at half-time when they played Chelsea last year. Nonetheless he knows Balotelli has struggled after his transfer to the Merseyside club, so why does he give the media and (maybe own) fans even more water on the criticism mill? (From a general Liverpool point of view, this looks even worse when compared to the Suárez/Evra racism row. Back then the entire club stood behind Suárez despite he was caught on the wrong side of the law and banned by an independent FA comission, but now they don't hesitate to go against their own player for swapping a shirt?)
In other words, I think the Liverpool manager should cut Balotelli a little bit of a slack, and not turn against him on all possible matters. Obviously this might be some sort of a self-defending strategy from the former Swansea manager; if Balotelli flops, he'll always have his «I knew he was a risk, it wasn't my fault things didn't work out» line up his sleeve, but is that sort of precaution really the best for Liverpool at the moment? Isn't it better to go all-in on Balotelli whilst he's around and then eventually admit a mistake if things don't work out?