Liverpool could have benefited from a goalscorer in the lineup on Saturday against Bolton, as they had most everything but the finishing in their 0-0 draw. News of an imminent return for Daniel Sturridge offers hope for the run-in, but for the time being, Brendan Rodgers was left to utilize Raheem Sterling in a role that's been hit-or-miss or turn to one of Fabio Borini, Rickie Lambert, or the recently fit Mario Balotelli.
Balotelli was nowhere to be seen however, as only Borini and Lambert made the squad. Talk of continued fitness problems or lasting illness persisted without any actual information pre-match, but any reason other than manager preference was quickly dismissed by Rodgers' post-match comments, with the manager stating that the player's continued inability to adapt to his manager's preferred playing style was to blame:
"Balotelli wasn't injured, he was just not selected. We had an hour or so yesterday chatting. He understands where we are at. He was out for a week not well. It's difficult for him. But he knows the level of what this team is at. He has seen the pressing and aggression and if you can't do that, then you aren't going to be a part of that. The team is doing very well and he is seeing the real Liverpool over the last six or seven weeks and understands what is required to get into the team and I'm judging it in training.
"Mario is exactly the same as every other player. There's no special treatment for anyone. Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert are working tirelessly in training and when they go on they have contributed. We suffered as a team in the first few months of the season and we can't go back to that. Mario will work very hard to feature again. I'm confident he will respond in the right way. He saw the level against Chelsea and in fairness he said it was probably a struggle for him in terms of how he would play the game. He is a box player."
At this point it feels as though Rodgers is just looking for more reasons to justify not playing the summer signing, and to pick out pressing and aggression as Balotelli's weakest points only serves to make things more confusing. The Italian has been far from successful since coming to Merseyside, but neither the visual nor statistical evidence suggests he's a worse option than either of Lambert or Borini in the pressing game despite Rodgers persisting with that as the primary reason for his omission.
There are legitimate bones to pick with Balotelli's shot selection, lack of goals, and movement in attack , and had he been included on Saturday night--either as an option off the bench or as a starter--there was no guarantee that he would have made a difference. The player has not done enough to warrant a guaranteed starting spot, and his manager is right that further work is needed to get himself back among the picking.
But there's also the feeling that Rodgers isn't doing Mario Balotelli any favors with his continued public discussions of the player's status at the club. So often the content is less than flattering, and for a player who arrived with a reputation for stirring up the wrong type of publicity, one would hope that Brendan Rodgers would find a way to strike a more effective balance if Balotelli's going to have any sort of Anfield future.
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