13 Aug 2015

Defender insists: 'Maverick' £45m attacker could be a 'great' player for Liverpool. Agree?

How refreshing. Liverpool defender Alberto Moreno has bucked the anti-Balotelli trend, and spoken out in support of the much-maligned striker, and provided a small insight into the 'maverick' Italian's demeanour around the training ground.

As confirmed by Jose Enrique this week, Balotelli is one of three non-British players being deliberately isolated by Brendan Rodgers, but Moreno insists that the treatment of his team-mate is unfair.

Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, the Spaniard noted:

"I think he [Balotelli] is unfairly maligned. He’s a very relaxed guy. He never bothers anyone.

"He could be a great striker. He’s got the tools. Things haven’t gone well for him here.

"He told me ‘This had never happened to me before'"

Moreno is not the only player who has publicly defended Balotelli recently. Earlier this month, Andre Pirlo poured cold water on the oft-parroted myth that Balotelli is difficult to handle. He enthused:

"Mario is one of the nicest guys you'll meet. I used to walk into training in Italy and even before he said something I would start laughing. There are never boring moments when Mario is around."

Balotelli also appears to be popular amongst his team-mates, as this photo from his birthday party on Wednesday seems to prove:

Re Moreno's comments: Balotelli is right - his poor creative return at Anfield has 'never happened' before. His goals/assists drought at Liverpool is the exception for his career, not the rule, and as I've repeatedly argued, there's only one reason for that: Brendan Rodgers.

* In the season prior to joining Liverpool, Balotelli grabbed 25 goals/assists in 39 games for Milan, but at LFC, he's suffered a massive 80% reduction in creative output.

* Balotelli has an overall career average of one goal/assist every 1.7 games; under Rodgers, that's plummeted to 1 goal/assist every 7 games.

* If every other manager under whom Balotelli has worked can get that out of him (despite his issues), why has Rodgers abjectly failed to do the same?

Yes, I keep banging this drum, but Balotelli - allegedly worth £45m according to his deluded agent - has a superb pedigree, and Rodgers should be getting more out of him. The Italian is not an isolated case - Rodgers has always struggled to get the best out of the attacking players at his disposal:

* After 183 goals in 229 games for Southampton, Rickie Lambert also suffered an 80% reduction in creative output under Rodgers, and only lasted a season before being shipped out.

* At a combined cost of £46m, Adam Lallana, and Lazar Markovic have struggled to regularly score/create goals under Rodgers.

* Coutinho, Henderson, and Sterling all failed to reach double figures for goals in the league.

* Assaidi, Alberto, Moses and Aspas contributed next to nothing under Rodgers before being farmed out on loan and/ or scrapped.

In terms of end product, Daniel Sturridge, and Luis Suarez are the only attacking players who have consistently achieved a goals/assists ratio commensurate with talent/expectation, but that's arguably down to the individual brilliance of those players, rather than the manager's king-making genius.

That said, their prodigious form happened on Rodgers' watch, so he arguably deserves some credit for their success.

Fans are quick to dismiss and malign Balotelli, but his poor creative return at Liverpool should be considered in the context of Rodgers' ongoing failure to get the best out of his attacking players.

Will things change this season? Benteke and Firmino (combined cost: £61m) are this year's big attacking hopes, and both have excellent stars pre-Liverpool:

* Benteke: 62 goals/assists in 101 games for Villa (Goal/assist every 1.6 games)

* Firmino: 85 goals/assists in 153 games for Hoffenheim ((Goal/assist every 1.8 games)

If Benteke and Firmino fail to maintain similar stats this season, I don't see how Rodgers will be able to escape responsibility, especially in light of his history with under-achieving attacking players.

Back to Balotelli: forget his media-exaggerated 'issues' - history proves that he is capable of scoring/creating a goal every 1.7 games, and at a cost of £16m (and millions more in wages), the manager arguably has a financial responsibility to try and get the best out of him.

If Rodgers can't do that, perhaps another manager will be able to?

As for Moreno: the Spaniard is already (seemingly) on thin ice at Anfield, and I doubt Rodgers will be impressed with the subtle implication that Balotelli is not being treated fairly by the manager.

Moreno better watch his back, or he may end up joining Enrique, Borini, and Balotelli in exile.

Author: Jaimie K


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