Brendan Rodgers has stated that Mario Balotelli must work harder if he is to gain a regular place within the Liverpool starting line-up. The Italian signed for the Reds last summer for £16 million but has netted just four goals in all competitions, and was on the end of some heavy criticism before the turn of the year.
The Italian has improved in recent weeks when making a series of substitute performances against Tottenham Hotspur, Crystal Palace and most recently Besiktas, scoring two goals and providing one assist.
Although Balotelli's goalscoring troubles may have turned a corner, Rodgers still feels that his striker is not doing enough off the ball for his team and must improve on that effort.
“If he works harder than when he came on [against Besiktas], he will improve,” Rodgers told the Liverpool Echo.
“We need to ensure that whatever level of the game we are playing at we have everyone working as a team and once we get the penalty he stops working.
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“He needs to improve on that facet of his game to play in his position, rather than standing on the side of the football field.
“He has contributed by scoring the goal but that is what he is paid to do. He needs to keep that efficiency in his game and show that he can affect the team whether he is asked to play from the bench or from the start.
“In a different country and a different style of football that would be all that matters but in this team here it is more than that."
After months of frustration, it finally looks as if Balotelli is beginning to settle in at the Merseyside outfit. Against Palace especially, the former Manchester City made the real difference and offered Liverpool a different approach when things weren't going quite right.
Balotelli can hold the ball up for his side and wait for recruits to join him or he can play fluent football on the counter attack.
The return of Daniel Sturridge has boosted the Italy international's form and the pair have clearly got a superb understanding for one another's game and both enjoy having a partner up-top.
Right To Take Penalty
Last Thursday against Besiktas in the Europa League, Balotelli stepped up to the plate after Jordan Ibe was brought down in the box with just minutes remaining. Although stand-in captain Jordan Henderson and Sturridge both wanted to take the penalty, Balotelli took responsibility and calmly slotted his effort home.
After the game, Reds skipper Steven Gerrard who was in the ITV studio covering the game called the striker's actions "disrespectful" and "mischievous."
However, Rodgers had no problems with Balotelli taking the penalty.
“Steven and Mario are the top two penalty takers, but obviously neither of them were on the pitch at the start so you have to nominate someone,” the Northern Irishman added.
“Jordan was nominated, but when we had a penalty Mario had come onto the field. So Jordan, being someone with responsibility and trust, gave the penalty to Mario so there was no issue.
“There was a little bit of a kerfuffle around it because he wanted to make sure Mario was happy to take it, but that was it really.
“If you are the vice-captain and the captain comes off the bench it’s the etiquette to go and give him the armband. For me it’s a similar thing with the penalty.
“If Steven is on the field there is no drama as he takes the penalty. He’s the first choice penalty taker.
“After that if Mario is on the field he takes the penalty. His history shows he has scored nearly 30 penalties in big games. He’s an outstanding penalty taker.”
Much Ado About Nothing
Regarding the penalty issue, there was no reason why Balotelli should not have took the penalty. His record from the 12-yard spot speaks for itself and has taken some massive penalties in his career.
Henderson may have been the captain, but he has never been in a pressure situation like on Thursday night - especially with the Kop bearing down on him. The correct decision was made and now Liverpool head into the second-leg in Istanbul next week with a slim but precious lead.