Back to what? Every time an out of form striker comes back with a goal or a good performance all the calls come about them being back to their best. Look at Fernando Torres, how many times was he “back” to his best at Chelsea and he never lived up to it. Mario Balotelli is a different kettle of fish, going back to his old self is the last thing he needs to do if he is going to stay in this Liverpool side. Sure in his old form at Milan and City at times saw him score some goals but he also displayed laziness and a lack of commitment to his side. Last nights performance may not be a case of him getting back to where he was but more so beginning as he means to go on.
Replacing Daniel Sturridge in the 74th minute, Balotelli came onto the pitch to a subdued atmosphere with the Anfield crowd no longer excited by the prospect of the big Italian. The twenty minute appearance that followed contained everything that Brendan Rodgers has been looking for in the 24 year old since his arrival. The performance was probably the best we have seen from him since becoming a Liverpool player. From his first involvement he attempted to be a key figure in the game, there was no sign of him shying away from possession, every high ball in the oppositions half he competed for and he even chased every lost cause adding a rabona pass to keep the ball in play at one stage.
His hard work paid off just under ten minutes into his run out when Adam Lallana sent a low ball across the six yard box for Balotelli to tap home, and he duly obliged. The stadium erupted with celebration, everyone but the goalscorer himself were wild in celebration, it was his first Premier League goal for Liverpool but it still didn't warrant a smile from the former Milan man. His contribution was not finished their, as we neared the end of injury time and Spurs passed the ball probingly at the back waiting for their men to get into the box, Balotelli was sprinting towards them trying to close them down, to the disbelief of many spectators Mario Balotelli was putting in a shift for the team so has he finally turned a corner in his career?
The goal itself may be worth the £16 million Liverpool forked out in the summer for Balotelli’s services as it puts them right into the top4 race and gives them huge momentum going forward. Brendan Rodgers is sure to be absolutely delighted with Balotelli who he has excluded from the squad so often as he did not offer the work rate needed in his setup but last night he encapsulated everything that he needs to become a top player at Anfield.
Confidence is massive for a centre forward and the confidence Balotelli should gain from the Spurs game could drive him on to big things in the coming months, not only the goal but the applause he received as he chased down the defenders and goalkeeper must make it seem worthwhile for him to keep on going and perform like that every time he is given a chance by the manager. His finishing quality is not in doubt but seeing him at the edge of the six yard box as we did last night has not been frequent enough and is the main reason for his lack of goals. Anfield was far too used to Balotelli coming deep to get the ball and then proceeding to either lose it or take a wild shot from thirty plus yards out. If he begins to adopt a position closer to goal naturally the goals will come.
Naturally with Spurs being the visitors to Anfield last night thoughts wandered back to the early September fixture in which Liverpool saw off Spurs by 3 goals to nil at White Hart Lane, up front that day for Liverpool was the strike partnership of Daniel Sturridge and Mario Balotelli and the two performed brilliantly together, Balotelli could have had at least 2 goals that day. Unfortunately with Sturridge’s injury woes that partnership never had a chance to flourish but with both men fit and firing at the moment it may be the time to try it out again. It would require a change in formation and as they say you should never change a winning formula but at some stage you would expect and hope Rodgers will try the partnership and who knows maybe they could become one of the best strike partnerships in the Premier League, all Liverpool fans will be hoping so anyway.
photo credit: Balotelli e quei soldi spesi ogni settimana per la cresta via photopin (license)
photo credit: Napoli, Canovi: ''Gli azzurri evitino Balotelli e prendano un regista...'' via photopin (license)