Mario Balotelli arrived at Liverpool for a cut-rate £16M fee. As is so often the case when players move for cut-rate fees, there are reasons. For some, the belief was that those reasons were related to attitude. In reality, they had more to do with the player's poor goal return from open play for Milan. Supposed attitude issues may have played a role, but at the most basic level, Balotelli wasn't doing what a club expects its top striker to do.
That has continued since he arrived at Liverpool, with the 24-year-old providing a frustrating option up front. In the league he has taken 30 shots to date and scored zero goals. In all competitions he has one goal on 41 shots for a conversion rate of less than 2.5%, which is poor for any player. If Daniel Sturridge had scored at that rate last season he would have had three goals. He got 24. Despite that, Brendan Rodgers is looking to defend his misfiring striker.
"With Mario yesterday, what I liked was that he was in the position to miss the chances," Rodgers said when speaking to TalkSport today, though many who watched Sunday's match against QPR would likely disagree with the suggestion he got himself into good areas all that often. They might also point to Liverpool's first goal, an own goal, where Balotelli was walking away from the play and as unaware of its development as the QPR players as it developed.
It was his worst day in a red shirt. Previously, even though he hadn't been scoring, one could at least point to his work-rate. That he chased down players without the ball and at least seemed to be trying to get into those right positions to miss chances. On Sunday there was little of that. On Sunday, there was little of anything, really, from Mario Balotelli, and the result was an indefensibly poor performance no matter Rodgers' pronouncements.
As bad as it was, though, there were contributory reasons. He looked markedly worse to go along with missing his chances—or one chance in particular—than in past matches, but as in those past matches, here he was again sent out as a lone striker by Rodgers. Rather than trying to see hope and silver linings in Balotelli's poor performance as Rodgers appears to be in his defence of the player, it's time to change that approach.
"We spoke to him a lot about getting in the box," added Rodgers, before hinting that he does see part of the problem as coming from playing Balotelli on his own. "He played his best game away at Tottenham when he had Daniel [Sturridge] up there with his as well. He hasn't really had that partner up alongside him. What was good yesterday was he missed a couple of chances but he was in there. The problem comes when you don't look like scoring at all."
Yet if Rodgers does believe it's an issue as so many on the outside do, the question remains as to why he hasn't done anything about it. Rickie Lambert may offer a similar skill-set to Balotelli, but that still leaves Fabio Borini. The two showed promise when partnered late against Ludogorets—a period that saw Balotelli score his only Liverpool goal—and while they couldn't score against West Ham, that match was lost by Liverpool's midfield, not its strikers.
And if Rodgers won't give Borini a shot eleven despite Sturridge's injury and Balotelli looking worse as a lone striker by the week, it would at least make sense to try a less conventional option like sticking Raheem Sterling up top to run the channels. It might not work, but might not would be an improvement on the current situation. Things aren't working, and with Sturridge out another month it's time for a change. In truth, it was time for one weeks ago.