Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers leapt to the defence of maverick forward Mario Balotelli following yesterday's last-gasp 3-2 win over Queens Park Rangers, but his plea for patience when it comes to the Italian forward looked hollow to say the least.
Balotelli has failed to score in six Premier League appearances since completing a £16m move from AC Milan, even £35m flop Andy Carroll had netted twice by then and unsurprisingly the pressure on the ex-Man City misfit is really starting to mount.
There are mitigating circumstances to Balotelli's poor start to life on Merseyside beyond the usual need for an adjustment period, an injury to potential long-term strike partner Daniel Sturridge the main blow as it's put the spotlight on Rodgers' biggest transfer gamble even further.
It's hard to trot out those perennial excuses for Mario though, with a pair of particularly painful mistakes at Loftus Road summing up the need for urgent improvement from a talented player struggling to shoulder the burden of leading Liverpool's charge this season.
First Balotelli somehow managed to fire over from close range completely unmarked when a golden opportunity presented itself, although in fairness he would have been odds-on hand to score a dramatic last-ditch winner had Steven Caulker not turned into his own net.
More worrying was his decision making on an earlier occasion, turning inside and scuffing a tame short wide when there was a chance to pick out Adam Lallana's terrific run into the penalty area.
Not a Suarez replacement but still no excuses
Rodgers feels Balotelli is being unfairly viewed as the man who can replace Luis Suarez, the talisman who scored a quite staggering 31 goals in 33 Premier League games last term.
"The guy is doing his best and working really hard and it is not dropping for him," Rodgers insisted. "I would say he would have finished that if Caulker had not put it in."
“He is seen as the direct replacement for Luis Suarez. And as I said before, Luis is irreplaceable. A real world class talent and that is not what is being asked of Mario."
You have to agree with Rodgers to some extent, Balotelli's not the same type of striker and relies purely on showing a ruthless streak in front of goal rather than dropping deep to link up play, as Suarez did so devastatingly last term.
One of a kind forward must start producing
Comparisons with Carroll are also wide of the mark despite their similar physical stature, Balotelli is more mobile and has proven himself in the Champions League and at international level in more than one major competition.
It's about balance and consistency for a man who current Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri still fully expects to come good, but Liverpool can't afford for his domestic goal drought to drag on too much longer without takingdrastic action.
In many ways managing Balotelli could come to define this season and beyond for Rodgers.
The confident tactician has backed himself to succeed where Roberto Mancini and Jose Mourinho failed, harness Balotelli's true potential week-in, week-our rather than in fleeting bursts.
Wednesday night's Champions League showdown with Real Madrid provides Balotelli with the chance to step up and be counted, if he doesn't then it will no surprise to see Rickie Lambert against Hull City next weekend.
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