One highly-skilled, controversial forward departs and another highly-skilled, controversial forward arrives. Whether Liverpool’s second experiment with a polarizing star works out remains to be seen.
If nothing else, the addition of Mario Balotelli to coach Brendan Rodgers’ side gives Reds fans another big-name striker to watch after Luis Suarez’s ugly exit from Anfield.
One of the world’s great talents, Balotelli is the kind of forward who can dictate play. He’s a physical specimen who possesses both strength and speed. When at his best, Balotelli scores goals and creates goalscoring opportunities for others.
The downside? Balotelli has seen his fair share of controversies. An enigmatic personality, Balotelli has often engaged in bizarre behavior, ranging from firing air pistols in Milan’s Piazza della Repubblica to driving his car into a women’s prison while playing for Manchester City. He’s also been at the forefront of Italy’s ongoing battle against racism during his time in Serie-A.
For Liverpool, the advantages clearly outweigh any potential problems. By adding Balotelli to the mix, the Reds now carry three gifted strikers who present matchup problems for opponents.
In Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, Liverpool already had two forwards with world-class speed who excel on the wings. What the Reds lacked was a target forward with the physicality to provide potential headaches for teams keying on the movements of Sturridge and Sterling. For all his off-the-field bravado, Balotelli provides Liverpool with just that.
While with Manchester City, Balotelli scored 20 goals in 54 games while primarily serving in a backup role. After joining AC Milan in 2012, he netted 26 goals in 43 games over a two-year period while becoming the squad’s primary center forward.
Balotelli will likely play a similar role with the Reds. In this case, he has more help with Sturridge and Sterling playing alongside him. Add in the presence of talented midfielders Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana, and Liverpool now have the makings of a dynamic goal-scoring offense.
The Reds figure to need every one of those goals. Counting their Monday contest with the Sky Blues, Liverpool have now surrendered 54 goals in their last 40 Premier League matches. Clearly, Rodgers saw the need for more offense to help compensate and Balotelli certainly fills the need.
The only question now is whether Balotelli’s penchant for off-the-field drama can be tamed. If the answer is yes, the Reds may have found a suitable replacement for Suarez’s prolific goal-scoring. Should the old Balotelli resurface, all bets are off.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome, Rodgers deserves credit for taking the chance. When focused on soccer, Balotelli is one of the world’s prodigious talents. The trick for Rodgers will be keeping Balotelli’s mind on the pitch. If he can successfully navigate the labyrinth of his new forward’s personality, Reds fans can look forward to plenty of fun in the future.