On Sunday 31st of August, “Super” Mario Balotelli made his long awaited return the the Premier League as a Liverpool player in their game against Tottenham Hotspurs at White Hart Lane. His previous time in the league had been showered with controversy on and off the pitch. Whether it be getting red cards, stamping on Scott Parker or setting off fireworks through his bathroom window, many pundits, fans and players wondered if anything would change, would he still be lazy on the pitch? Would he still play only for himself? Would the antics all come back? And more importantly would he be fit enough due to not playing any football since the World Cup?
Balotelli couldn’t be tamed by some of the highest profile managers in the game including Mancini and Jose Mourinho so how can Brendan Rodgers get his philosophy across to him? A philosophy that means the team works hard and presses high and the forward men run back and help out. Sounds highly unlike Balotelli!
However, during the game we saw a different Balotelli, he was chasing back, helping out and uses his size and strength to his advantage. It was good to see him working hard across the front line chasing and pressing and like I said before helping out at the back, proving he maybe is changing his style, trying to shake off the “lazy” tag, like here for example when he helped out at set plays and when he cleared twice.
A lot was made before the game about how he lacks match practise having not played since the World Cup, and because they were knocked out at the group stage, that is quite a long period of time, 68 days to be precise. He played 61 minutes and was eventually replaced. During his time on the pitch he put himself about; he suffered 1 foul and committed 4, typical of Mario of old. The tackle he did make he did it successfully.
Liverpool’s possession play may have worked in Balotelli’s favour because of his time spent at City. During this game he played 16 passes and 8 of them were successful, 1 of which created a chance
His passing in the defensive 3rd, where he completed 2 passes, again this shows he helped his team mates out and got back to defend as well.
Being a striker he will obviously be known for his ability to hit the back of the net, and he did miss a sitter in the first 2 minutes heading straight at Hugo Lloris, it happened again when he headed off target from a Steven Gerrard free kick! However, the funniest moment of the match was when Lloris charged out of his goal and passed it straight to Balotelli who hit it first time… Right into row Z behind the goal and to add to the humiliation ended up on his backside.
We touched on Balotelli working hard during his hour on the pitch and this can be shown by the work done by Anfieldindex.com. They collected data on off the ball statistics and how many times Liverpool players pressed the ball or players during their game at White Hart Lane. Balotelli’s Pressing Map is below:
As you can see Mario Balotelli attempted 18 pressing actions for Liverpool in 60 minutes, this is more than Moreno, Manquillo and Sturridge attempted in 90 minutes so his effort shouldn’t be in question from his debut. His pressing efficiency (how many presses ended with a positive result for Liverpool) was at 72% and he attempted a pressing action every 5 minutes. What’s going to be key is whether he continues to do this in the next few games and that is what everyone will be watching out for.
I think overall Mario Balotelli had a quiet game on the ball but worked hard off of it. However it was his debut and with match practise under his belt he will succeed as a Liverpool player. Brendan Rodgers will have to make sure he is always following the club philosophy, and if he does this Mario can become an LFC hero for many years, he’s not a kid anymore, he’s 24 now, people can’t say “in a few years”, he has to do it now. I think Gerrard is going to be a key contributor to Balotelli’s development as a player and as a person. Only time will tell.