Liverpool were resigned to losing Luis Suarez, even before his Hannibal Lecter moment in Brazil. Barcelona rightly compensated the Anfield side around £75mill for their trouble. The toughest job at hand for Rodgers was using his new brimming war chest to replace the Kop’s goal scoring hero and create a squad capable of maintaining their top 4 finish of last year.
We are now heading into the second half of October, Suarez is set to finish his ban and debut for his new side (potentially in an El Clasico). Meanwhile, on Merseyside, the two new strikers brought in to make up for his loss of goals have collectively got a goal between them, which wasn’t even scored in the Premier League. Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert are yet to make any notable impressions in a Liverpool shirt. We can’t be too harsh, admittedly Daniel Sturridge being injured for an extended period hasn’t helped the two new strikers settle into life at Anfield. Also, Rickie Lambert is mainly used as a substitute and his signing I believe was more a sentimental one for a lifelong Liverpool fan who has shone in the twilight of his career. Balotelli was the man the red half of Merseyside was banking on to get amongst the goals.
It’s on this note I pose the question, was Balotelli ever the man Liverpool should’ve signed to attempt to fill the gaping Suarez shaped hole in their side? The answer is a resounding no. Rodgers himself said only weeks before the deal was finalised that Balotelli wouldn’t be signing for the club. This gives the impression that in the few weeks subsequent to Rodgers’ comments, the real striking targets Liverpool were pursuing were unattainable. So the enigmatic Italian was signed for £16 million. Meanwhile, their rivals in the North East were preparing to sell a striker of their own for £16 million, Danny Welbeck.
Arsenal snapped up Danny Welbeck from Man United on transfer deadline day for the same fee Liverpool paid for the former Man City striker. At first glance many would believe Liverpool got a steal while Arsenal had been robbed. People of that belief are extremely naive.
Brendan Rodgers last season had Liverpool playing a unrelenting attacking style of football which threw caution to wind with the belief of “you can score 3, because we are going to score 5”. At the core of this was two frontmen that were putting the ball in the net at an alarming frequency, but also defending from the front, hassling opposition defenders and midfielders into submission. Suarez’s goals are missed at Anfield but what is missed almost as much is his industry off the ball. The Uruguayan chipped in with assists and turned over possession constantly. You are simply not going to get that kind of contribution from Balotelli. Not only are you not going to get even 2/3 of the goals of Suarez but neither are you going to get the work rate that allowed him to make Daniel Sturridge’s game a lot simpler, stay up top and put the ball in the net when I give it to you. Someone you would get that work rate and selfless play from is Danny Welbeck
The idea of comparing Welbeck to Suarez will be too much for some, but this isn’t a comparison of the two. This is meant to display why Welbeck possesses more of the qualities Liverpool are now missing than Balotelli does. Welbeck just suits the way Brendan Rodgers wants to play football more than Super Mario. The biggest question over Welbeck’s game has always been his ability to consistently score goals. His record for Man United was hardly stellar, add in the amount chances he would squander and he developed a comedic persona for opposition fans to poke fun at over social media. An opinion has been developed of Welbeck totally ignoring his vast other qualities that he can bring to a side.
Firstly, his pace and strength. Watching Welbeck pick up momentum and drive at a defender at full pace (with or without the ball) is something to behold, the aggression with which he bounds forward is enough to put defences on alert. This is why he would regularly get selected by Fergie himself for big games, i.e. Real Madrid away in the Champions League. Had Welbeck been able to add a final product to his game on top of his athletic capabilities he wouldn’t have been sold for only £16 million to a league rival.
With Welbeck Liverpool would have had a Suarez replacement who may not guarantee you the 25+ goals a season you are looking for, but he is still young. Furthermore, his pace, strength and stamina would have allowed him to slip into Rodgers’ philosophy almost seamlessly. Not forgetting that he is an England regular with most of the Liverpool squad, including his would be strike partner in Mr Sturridge, in Rodgers’ system a player as selfless as Welbeck paired with someone as selfish as Sturridge would have only led to goals for the former Chelsea man. There would of course be more to a Welbeck move to Liverpool than most transfers. For starters Man United probably would not want to sell to Liverpool, which was proven in the past when they dug their heels into the ground and refused to allow Gabriel Heinze (remember him?) to move to Merseyside.
In Balotelli, Liverpool acquired a total enigma of a player. He is considered one of the world’s best without really showing it on a consistent basis. His record a Man City was underwhelming, although admittedly he was young. His record at AC Milan was impressive but that nowadays is hardly a glowing endorsement of a player’s ability. But most glaring is that the quality that he does possess doesn’t fit Liverpool’s new style. He is a big, strong centre forward capable of holding the ball up and bringing other players into the game. What you aren’t going to get from him is gut-busting, selfless performance where he does not give the opposition defenders a moment on the ball. Perhaps when Sturridge is fit again, Balotelli could prove me wrong and the two could create a fruitful partnership that helps Liverpool maintain their status of last season.
Welbeck and Balotelli’s season have started differently. Given they both cost the same fee you could argue that Arsenal themselves would have better suited signing Balotelli while Welbeck went to Anfield. But, right now I think Arsenal fans are happy with the man they got. What is certain in my mind is that when you look to find aspects of Luis Suarez game in either of the two players, Welbeck will check more items on the list. That is unless Balotelli takes to biting centre-backs. Welbeck has been dealt a poor hand in public opinion stakes, but as the season goes on and his career progresses I believe many will start to think likening him Suarez isn’t so unbelievable after all. Don’t get me wrong he is nowhere near Suarez in terms of ability, the Uruguayan is one of the best talents on the planet, but Liverpool were never going to get a like for like replacement for their star man. They should have at least got a player with some noticeable similarities though.