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Rumour Mongering: Balotelli's Revenge

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Mario Balotelli has been linked to Liverpool again, this time for a fee of around £17.5M, which seems exciting until you scratch below the surface to find a striker who can't score.

Justin K. Aller

Mario Balotelli is something of a rarity: a big name striker who can't score. At least not as often as he should from open play given the number of shots he takes. Still, he's a striker, and he's got a boatload of raw talent. Even if nobody has quite figured out a way of harnessing it. And he's been linked to Liverpool again, this time for a rumoured fee of £17.5M.

He's scored 26 times in a season and a half at Milan, which on the surface seems a phenomenal return. In fact, it makes him Serie A's top scorer since he headed back to Italy in January of 2013. There's only one problem, and that's that he scored nine of those goals from the penalty spot and 17 from open play. Which, on the surface, still doesn't seem terrible.

Only he's taken 219 shots to get those 17 goals. Luis Suarez last season took 181 shots to get his 31 league goals. Daniel Sturridge took 99 shots to get 21. In Italy, last year's top scorer Ciro Immobile scored 22 times on 101 shots while Carlos Tevez scored 18 non-penalty goals on 125 shots and Luca Toni scored 17 times from open play on 116 shots.

Without even breaking down the numbers further, the difference is fairly obvious: Mario Balotelli is a striker who doesn't score at anything like the rate one would expect him to given how many shots he takes. Liverpool and Italy's top scorers last season all took between 4.6 and 6.9 shots to score each of their goals. Balotelli has taken 12.9 shots to score each of his at Milan.

When Sturridge shot there was a 21% chance of a goal; when Suarez did it was a 17% chance. Immobile, Tevez, and Toni scored 22%, 14%, and 15% of the time. Mario Balotelli scored less than 8% of the time when he shot, and throughout his career his goal return has fallen below what would be expected of any decent striker given the number of shots he takes.

His low return also can't be blamed on poor shot selection and a tendency to shoot from distance. Last season, he scored 11 goals from open play. He took 148 shots, meaning it took 14.5 shots to score each goal at a rate of just over 7%. Meanwhile, he scored only five of those goals in the penalty area on 50 shots—even at close range he only scored 10% of the time.

He's got the tools and talent, and he makes for compelling personal story. He's also about as good at scoring right now as Jordan Henderson, who took 12.25 shots to score a goal last season. If Balotelli does end up at Liverpool—though so far Milan claim no offer has been made—the hope will be that he can finally put all his talented pieces together and make good on his promise.

A misleadingly inflated goals-for column aside, his track record doesn't suggest that's especially likely. So far, all his track record really shows is a striker who can't score at anything like the rate he should.