“Even a broken clock is right twice a day”
Inconsistent, lethargic and generally lacking ideas. These are some of the words thrown together to describe Liverpool’s number 45. If you thought I would be one of the many jumping on the ‘Anti-Mario’ bandwagon, you would be very much mistaken. The problem lies deeper than Mario Balotelli, the problem is that those same adjectives describe Liverpool Football Club.
Hope and anguish filled supporters and pundits alike in equal measures when the signing of Mario Balotelli became official. He was the stand out signing from the many new faces who Liverpool brought in during the summer to not only fill the void that Luis Suarez left, but to start a new dawn where Liverpool FC become serious title challengers once again. Though, never before have Liverpool spent so much money in one window, and yet seem to be left with more problems than when they started.
Ask yourself this… Has Mario stopped running tirelessly, not giving defenders a moments rest? Has he stopped complaining to officials when treated harshly by defenders? Has he stopped taking shots when it would be wiser to pass to team-mates in better positions? Has he even started to play with a beaming smile across his face? Not likely! The reason I raise these points is to highlight the simple fact that Balotelli has not changed; instead, it’s Liverpool who have.
The intensity, pace, hunger and the oozing confidence has all but left Anfield. If anything Mario is being well… Mario. Liverpool knew just as well as anybody else what type of player they were signing, so it’s unreasonable to expect a miraculous change in his behaviour after just eight appearances. Liverpool should try to play to his strengths instead.
Last season Liverpool had a player in Suarez who, for all his faults, had consistency, energy and ideas in abundance. Suarez’s constant movement allowed others to move into better positions and open up space for runners to exploit. With Daniel Sturridge out injured, Liverpool are lacking genuine pace to run into channels and stretch opponents. Mario prefers the ball to feet and slows play down unless there are other players willing to overlap and create options. This can only be done if the team play as a unit.
Liverpool’s centre-backs are uncomfortable when the ball is at their feet, yet they are forced to play from the back, giving the ball away cheaply out of panic which continuously invites pressure on the defence, whether from open play or set pieces. When that isn’t happening the old mantra of Big Sam comes out and you have centre-backs hoofing the ball up the field to a striker who rarely chases down a lost cause convincingly. We have been told numerous times by the inner circle at Liverpool how hard Balotelli is working, but is he actually working hard or just slightly harder than he usually does? Is the odd game where he may in the future run himself into the ground enough? After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day. As the Liverpool Manager Brendan Rodgers recently acknowledged, it will most likely get worse before it gets better.
The short term answer for me is simple enough. Not every defender has the technical ability to be a ball playing one, so play to their strengths with concise early passing to avoid being put under pressure by opposition attackers. Players such as Philippe Coutinho will not be caught in possession or try to force a pass when given non-static options to find, with that fundamental adjustment he can recapture the scintillating form of the previous eighteen months.
The best attacking weapon at Brendan Rodger’s disposal is the captain Steven Gerrard, who is being wasted in a deep lying midfield role. It is clear, even at the age of 34, that Gerrard is still the best midfielder that Liverpool have. With Gerrard further forward, controlling the tempo and leading the midfield, with Sturridge and Sterling running into channels and making runs beyond the oppositions back-line, while Balotelli uses his power and ability to execute the spectacular, we may just see the real Liverpool stand up.