Mario Balotelli has been thrown under the bus unfairly by Steven Gerrard

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Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli has grown accustomed to criticism from the media, past managers and disgruntled supporters during a topsy-turvy career, but being thrown to the wolves in a very public way by his own captain is something completely new.

Steven Gerrard accused Balotelli of being "disrespectful" after stepping up to take the winning penalty against Besiktas last night, despite captain for the night Jordan Henderson being put on spot-kick duty by Reds boss Brendan Rodgers.

Balotelli was in fact doing something very different, taking some rare responsibility to make sure the best penalty taker on the pitch took on the pressure off a man in Henderson with zero experience of that type of situation.

Gerrard has got this one wrong

ITV probably couldn't believe their luck last night, with Gerrard working as a pundit on a Europa League clash that featured Henderson, Balotelli and a visibly upset Daniel Sturridge all arguing who would take the decisive spot kick.

Gerrard was asked for an instant reaction and gave his honest opinion on the incident: "Jordan should have taken the penalty. Rules are rules. It should have been Henderson. Mario has been a bit mischievous.

"Jordan is the captain and Mario showed Jordan a bit of disrespect there, but he's scored a very important goal. I think six or seven players would have wanted to take that penalty so if they all say they are taking it, what happens then?! Rules are in place for a reason."

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Balotelli's expertise had to be called upon

Gerrard's quite right, rules are rules and Henderson was written down on the board in the home dressing room as Liverpool's penalty taker.

Surely that was only because Balotelli was on the bench though, because ignoring the giant striker's proficiency from the penalty spot would be bordering on incompetent.

The 24-year-old has scored 27 penalties out of a possible 29 and justified his insistence on stepping up against Besitkas with a ruthless effort, slamming the ball into the bottom corner despite all the fuss that came before.

Rather than criticised Balotelli should be praised for putting his foot down, can you imagine if Henderson takes, misses and the forward watched on uninterested from the sidelines.

Balotelli would have been accused of not caring, which is far worse than showing a ruthless streak when a golden opportunity arises to score from eight yards.

Henderson also deserves some credit

Gerrard also dug out stand-in skipper Henderson for not sticking to his guns and telling Balotelli to get lost, but he actually showed far more courage and humility to pass up the chance and let someone more confident and qualified do the job instead.

Henderson has never scored a single career penalty, for either Sunderland, Liverpool or England at youth or senior level. He's taken just one penalty in over 250 games and missed it, in a League Cup tie for Sunderland.

The midfield maestro may have shown an aptitude for set pieces in training, but is the 85th minute of a tense European tie really the best time to put that theory into practice?

Rodgers has Henderson earmarked as a potential successor to Gerrard, on the evidence of last night his young charge is definitely leadership material.

Mario won't get a fair crack

What's perhaps even more surprising than Gerrard having a pop at Balotelli is how quick some ex-Liverpool players were to hammer the former Manchester City striker.

Jamie Redknapp for example was straight on the phone to talkSPORT insisting that Balotelli has no future at Anfield, which is a huge overreaction to say the least.

Its clear to me that Balotelli is fighting a losing battle at Anfield, because even when he shows some initiative and scores important goals he's still blasted.

Gerrard won't be around to take penalties from next season, so perhaps its time that he considered the future at Anfield and saved dressing downs for behind closed-doors rather than live on national television.

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Premier League
Steven Gerrard
Mario Balotelli
Jordan Henderson

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