Already down three suspended players in Martin Skrtel, Emre Can, and Steven Gerrard, Liverpool aren’t yet certain if striker Mario Balotelli will be available for Wednesday’s FA Cup replay. With Daniel Sturridge looking rusty as he struggles for sharpness on return from another injury setback, it could mean another game for Raheem Sterling up top.
Though it’s an approach that has worked before, with Liverpool’s midfield misfiring in recent weeks and the scoring chances limited, the less than deadly finishing of Liverpool’s often makeshift attack has become a problem just as it was in the first half of the season. It’s also a situation that limits Brendan Rodgers’ options if he wants to try something different, like reverting to the two-striker approach that worked so well last season.
If Balotelli again isn’t available, though, it won’t be because the club have ruled him out, as at his pre-match press conference Rodgers revealed another potential point of conflict between the coaching staff and the striker. Namely that it wasn’t Rodgers or the medical team that decided he wouldn’t even make the bench against Arsenal over the weekend—it was Balotelli himself.
Rodgers said that the striker "deemed himself not able to travel" following a knock to his knee in training on Friday and an assessment by the club’s medical staff where there was no recommendation made that he not travel. Though Rodgers added that they’d see how the player was in training ahead of Blackburn, it’s not a revelation that will do much to convince anybody Balotelli has a future at Anfield.
Already seemingly out of favour with the manager, media, and large portions of the fanbase, if it’s true the player ruled himself out when the medical staff hadn’t felt it necessary, it’s yet another reason to think the player is likely to be sold on in the summer—at least if Liverpool can find a taker at anything like the £16M they paid for him last summer. Meanwhile, fellow struggling big money signing Dejan Lovren appears likely to a start.
"The thing with Kolo is he gives me everything every single day so I know what I’m going to get with him," said Rodgers when asked about his choice to start Toure ahead of Lovren on the weekend. "Dejan was someone who was out over the international break, and he’s now back fighting and looking strong. He’ll be in contention for the cup game for sure."