Mario Balotelli was left out of the Liverpool squad that drew Leicester City 2-2 on Thursday, demonstrating the extent of his fall from relative grace after a largely underwhelming season to this point. The New Year has arrived and he's still searching for his first Premier League goal with Liverpool, and worse, his headline grabbing personality has made him an easy scapegoat, shifting attention away from problems such as the team's inconsistent central midfield and porous defense. Whether Balotelli's struggles come more from his own inadequacies or a tactical system that fails to incorporate his abilities is up for debate, but either way his long term future at the club is in doubt. However, there's no reason for him to go anywhere in the next month, as some outlets have reported.
For starters, the rumor itself seems to be ungrounded. The Daily Star passed on reports from Italian newspaper Il Messaggero that suggest that Balotelli's agent wants Liverpool to loan him to Serie A, with Napoli offered as a possible destination. However, most reputed transfer news websites have neglected to jump aboard this rumor, which taints its credibility. Further, the notion that a short loan deal would accomplish anything of value for the Reds is absurd. But given the clickbait-ian nature of Balotelli's very name, expect many more exit stories to come out in the coming weeks. Here's why you should disregard them.
Liverpool Need Striker Depth:
Without Daniel Sturridge, the Reds are so thin at striker that the team is being forced to play Raheem Sterling up top. The plan isn't going horribly -- Sterling does have three goals since he was placed in the forward's role -- but he's a much better player on the left wing or in the attacking midfield. Additionally, Sterling needs to rest every now and then, and it's hard to argue that Fabio Borini or Rickie Lambert provide much more than Balotelli in his place. Liverpool don't have enough quality or warm bodies at the striker position to ship off Balotelli without bringing in a forward from elsewhere.
Sturridge's Return Could Change Everything:
Liverpool fans have seen little of the Balotelli/Sturridge pairing due to Sturridge's ongoing injury problems, but in a small sample against Tottenham in August, the two seemed to click. There's reason to believe that the positive sample that we saw of those two together was no fluke.
Liverpool need a striker who can get behind defenses and stretch opponents vertically, but Balotelli isn't that guy and he never will be. However, in a two forward system, Sturridge can use his pace to race past defenders while Balotelli drops into the deeper positions that he excels in without stagnating the attack. It would defy logic to sell Balotelli before he gets the chance to prove himself in such a set up, as there's evidence that suggests that the formation could lead to his breakthrough at Liverpool.
Selling Him Now Would Be Dumb Business:
Balotelli has never held less value in the transfer market. If Liverpool are so fed up that they collectively give up on him after only five months (which I don't think they have), why would a team in Italy see him as a smart investment? The only way a team would buy Balotelli right now is at a severe discount, and what would the point be then?
The second half cannot go much worse for Balotelli than his first act at Liverpool, and in all likelihood the next few months will be at least a little better for the Italian. Any sign of life from Balotelli in the second half will inflate his value for the summer, and there's always the possibility that he breaks out alongside Sturridge.
He's Fun to Watch:
It's hard to say how the rest of the season will go for Liverpool -- the team could go on a remarkable run to finish top four or sputter to a mid table spot. But no matter which side the coin lands on, these final months will be far more interesting with
Subpar Super Mario around. He's a source of constant frustration, but he's also skilled, eccentric, and fun to his core. So beyond the logical reasons that will keep Balotelli at Liverpool through January, there's a selfish desire to see more of him in my favorite colors with the lingering hope that he can somehow put it all together.
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