It’s easy to criticise a striker that isn’t scoring goals, especially one that comes with as many negative preconceptions as Mario Balotelli.
Not that the Italy international’s form hasn’t been disappointing since he moved to Anfield for £16million this summer, but the constant scrutiny surrounding him, whilst Liverpool’s overall performances remain equally poor, is verging upon scapegoating.
There are other, more intrinsic problems on Merseyside that deserve far more attention, and just to prove it, here’s a list of FOUR major issues that should be taking precedent over the relentless, obsessive and frankly, rather weird, Balotelli-bashing.
There’s been a huge focus on Mario Balotelli’s failings this season – let’s face it, he’s a very easy target.
But he’s far from the only summer signing that’s struggled to transition to life at Anfield – in fact, with the exception of perhaps Alberto Moreno, all of the Reds’ acquisitions are yet to have the desired effect.
Take Lazar Markovic for example, the 20 year-old Brendan Rodgers splashed out a whopping £20million on during the summer. Granted, he’s viewed as a long-term investment, but the winger is yet to do anything noteworthy, or record any output, in nine appearances for Liverpool.
Likewise, despite joining Liverpool this summer under the pretence of representing his boyhood club and Daniel Sturridge spending the vast majority of the season on the sidelines, Rickie Lambert’s Reds career thus far has consisted of just 165 minutes (not even two full games) in the Premier League, stretched over one start and seven substitute appearances.
Resultantly, Whoscored.com rate him as the worst player in the division this season – even behind Jose Altidore and Darren Bent!
The summer signings simply haven’t settled properly – with comparisons between Liverpool’s summer 2014 transfer policy and Tottenham’s 2013 transfer policy aplenty – and some aren’t even getting the opportunities too.
It feels as if Brendan Rodgers is almost overawed by the amount of talent now at his disposal and Liverpool’s shock line-up against Real Madrid suggests he’s still uncertain over his strongest starting XI.
Mario Balotelli certainly hasn’t delivered on the goals front since his £16million summer move, but Liverpool aren’t up to much at the other end of the pitch either.
Their 13 goals conceded is matched or bettered by seven Premier League sides, whilst the Reds have claimed just two clean sheets this season – against Spurs in August and a recent scoreless draw with Hull City.
Part of the problem can be sourced to Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel struggling as a centre-back partnership.
Despite featuring in every minute of Liverpool’s Premier League campaign, the Croatian international is yet to replicate his commanding performances as Southampton’s flagship defender since joining the Anfield ranks for a whopping £20million in the summer:
In theory, his front-footed style should complement Skrtel perfectly. But the two just haven’t gelled this season and Lovren’s surprise exclusion from Liverpool’s visit to Real Madrid in midweek spoke volumes about Brendan Rodgers’ deteriorating faith in the 25 year-old.
With Mamadou Sakho also out of favour following his apparent walk-out ahead of the Merseyside derby, the Liverpool gaffer may be forced to bring Kolo Toure back into the starting XI permanently, having impressed at the Bernabeu.
But in truth, poor defending collectively is a long-term issue for the Anfield outfit. Since Rodgers took the helm in summer 2012, the Reds have conceded on average 1.2 goals per fixture, which isn’t good enough for a Champions League club.
Steven Gerrard looked like a player reborn in his unique quarter-back role last season, utilising his tenacity and long-range passing game to orchestrate Liverpool’s attacking play from deep positions.
He’s struggled to replicate that form this season however, as shown below:
And it appears Liverpool’s opposition have developed a formula to nullify the Reds captain:
Playing Gerrard as a CDM every game is too predictable,just being marked out of the game
— Marco Ross (@Hanno_Hanley) October 1, 2014
Gerrard man marked out of game again. Downing today. Agbonlahor / Weimann last few times at Anfield. Basic.
— Ian Bennett (@irbenno) September 20, 2014
Indeed, West Ham and Aston Villa, who have both recorded shock victories against the Anfield side this season, employed the same strategy of man-marking Gerrard in possession, reducing his capacity to influence the game, before exposing the space behind him on the counter-attack.
Last term, he was protected by the intensity of Liverpool’s attacking play, with Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen offering work-rate either side of him and Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez pressing from the front with considerable velocity.
Without that insulation, Gerrard just isn’t affecting matches in the same way, which is perhaps why Brendan Rodgers opted to bench the England centurion against Real Madrid in midweek.
The balance in the engine room clearly needs some tinkering, as does Gerrard’s role. But now 34 and his influence apparently waning, perhaps it’s time Rodgers readdressed the emphasis of Liverpool’s starting Xi to focus on younger talents like Henderson and Sterling.
A rather speculative topic, considering the majority of Liverpool’s recruitment process is handled by the ambiguous and unique ‘transfer committee’.
But quite clearly, the brains trust of Brendan Rodgers, his scouting team, chief executive Ian Ayre, head of analysis Michael Edwards and head of recruitment Dave Fallows, isn’t proving effective.
Rodgers has spent a whopping £212million since taking the Anfield helm two summers ago, and as you can see below, he’s hardly found good value for money:
WOW: A breakdown of the £212 million spent by Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool. pic.twitter.com/5OpGQwfAIy
— BBC Sporf (@BBCSporf) November 2, 2014
Not a top class signing among them, and to put that into some perspective, Chelsea’s starting XI on the Premier League’s opening weekend against Burnley – Courtiois, Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Azpilicueta, Matic, Fabregas, Schurrle, Oscar, Hazard and Costa – cost just £190million.
In truth, Rodgers only truly successful acquisitions as Anfield boss are Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho – and they were snapped up in the same transfer window.
Whether it’s the level of talent, the type of talent or the finance involved that’s the predominant issue – a 26 year-old Adam Lallana for example, at £25million, is hardly a proportionate fee – Liverpool’s recruitment process requires major changes.