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When it was announced Luis Suarez would be making the switch from Liverpool to Barcelona there was a certain section of the Anfield support for whom the overriding feeling was very much one of relief.
Though undoubtedly the club's finest payer and the driving force behind their remarkable second-place finish last season, unfortunately Suarez's time in England had almost come to be defined by the tornado of controversy that he left in his wake. So when stories began to emerge that Liverpool were in talks for AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli - perhaps the only elite-level striker Liverpool can realistically sign - they could have been forgiven for being wary.
But looking past Balotelli's disciplinary issues and off-pitch conduct, would the Italy international be a good fit for Brendan Rodgers' side as they look to replace Suarez's remarkable influence on the pitch?
The first point which springs to mind when talking about replacing Suarez is the astonishing amount of goals he scored for Liverpool last season. The PFA Player of the Year and Footballer of the Year bagged an astonishing 31 league goals in just 33 appearances during 2013/14, a full 10 more than his nearest rival, team-mate Daniel Sturridge.
When compared to Suarez, Balotelli's numbers do not stack up so well with the Milan forward scoring 14 goals in his 30 Serie A appearances last season. However it's still a healthy return, especially for a player in a side who made heavy work of their last campaign and finished a lowly eighth.
Since making his league debut for Milan in 2013, no player has scored more Serie A goals than Mario Balotelli (26). pic.twitter.com/Wy96CbUPHx
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) August 21, 2014
Furthermore, Balotelli's goalscoring record during his time in Italy is surprisingly impressive. Since his debut in 2013 no player has scored more Serie A goals than Balotelli (26), and only Sturridge (30) and Suarez (37) have scored more Premier League goals during the same period.
Of course it is not just goals which Rodgers will be looking to introduce to his side.
With Suarez in their XI it was as if Liverpool were playing with 12 men; he was not only supremely talented with the ball at his feet, but also one of the most relentless players in the league when it came to pressing high up the pitch, often forcing opposition defenders into misplacing passes out from the back or hurrying clearances.
It was something which Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers had clearly worked on with players like Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho equally adept at winning the ball back in their opponents' half before launching a lightning fast counter-attack.
There is certainly a question mark over whether Balotelli would fit into the high pressing, counter-attacking game that Rodgers is keen on. While perhaps not as lazy as some of his critics would have you believe, the Azzurri striker is simply not a player who will consistently attempt to harry and disrupt the opposition centre-backs when they're on the ball.
He has a tendency to become frustrated and turn into a peripheral figure in a game if things aren't going his way - something which, for all his faults, you could never accuse Suarez of.
Another key facet to Suarez's game is his creativity and craft. During 2013/14 Suarez created a staggering 87 chances, compared to just 32 and 29 respectively for Balotelli and Sturridge. The Uruguayan also managed to get 12 assists.
With Suarez in the team, Rodgers could afford to sacrifice a creative midfielder safe in the knowledge that the Uruguayan would focus on setting up goals for Sturridge just as intently as he did on scoring his own. Would a line-up featuring both Balotelli and Sturridge create enough chances for the two strikers to feed off? A key issue should Liverpool sign the striker.
There is also the issue of where exactly Balotelli would fit into Liverpool's formation. It is clear from his time at both Liverpool and Swansea that Rodgers is a manager who prefers to play with one central striker, despite his experiments with a diamond formation and a three-man defence last season.
Both of these systems were used primarily to ensure that both of the Reds' strikers could be utilised in their favoured positions without sacrificing the balance in midfield and it is doubtful that the manager would be inclined to play with two centre-forwards if he did not have two world-class options at his disposal.
The arrival of Balotelli could mean a return to last season's diamond, however this would make it impossible to keep Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Sterling, Coutinho Sturridge and new signing Adam Lallana on the pitch together. But on the other hand, it gives Rodgers the ability to flexible with his formations and means Liverpool could have more options coming on from the bench.
Liverpool will be facing a much larger fixture list this season with their return to the Champions League and squad depth will be vital if they are to make a genuine push for the title. Indeed, last season the lack of convincing attacking options outside of the starting line-up hampered the Reds' title charge. However, even with injuries and a need to rest certain players the arrival of Balotelli could make it difficult for Rodgers to juggle his squad and keep everyone happy.
Rodgers should instead put his faith in Sturridge to lead the line and concentrate on bringing in players who would dovetail well with the England man or be happy to spend some time out of the starting line-up as an impact sub. On the surface Queens Park Rangers' Loic Remy could have been the perfect player for this role, making it all the more disappointing that he failed his medical at Anfield after a fee had been agreed.
- Sports & Recreation
- Mario Balotelli
- Brendan Rodgers
- Luis Suarez
- Daniel Sturridge