Mario Balotelli: Rating His Performance for Manchester City vs. Liverpool
From hatred to humor, the Italian international striker somehow manages to evoke all sorts of emotions and thoughts in people, and as a result, every football fan around the world has an opinion about Balotelli.
That's quite OK, because he probably has an opinion on you too.
The larger-than-life player is certainly one of the most interesting characters in the English Premier League this season and is bound to confirm that tagline throughout the season as he plays for defending champions Manchester City.
However, due to the plethora of attacking options that City manager Roberto Mancini has at his disposal this season, the striker won't feature for the Citizens as frequently as he'd like this season—left as the third-string striker behind Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez.
Thus when the former of the two suffered an injury in the opening round of the Premier League against Southampton, Balotelli was given an opportunity by Mancini to make his mark on the league this season—starting against Liverpool when the two sides met at Anfield on Sunday.
Balotelli is no doubt a talented footballer—the recent 2012 European Championships confirmed that—but whether or not he could keep it all together this season for City still remained to be seen. He was, after all, sent off when the two sides met at Anfield last season.
Mancini issued the challenge to Super Mario prior to the game that he must step up and grow in the absence of Aguero, stating via The Daily Express:
"I think Mario has a big responsibility because for us, he's an important player. In two years, he won the Premier League and the FA Cup—I think that he did well.
"I agree that if he plays like he dad at Euroes it will be better [for us]. Mario is the same; I don't think he can change in one month. Probably this season can help him to improve.
"Every player goes 100 per cent. Mario is an important player here—I think he can do better but I'm sure that he'll improve..."
Thus with the challenge and expectation set by Mancini and Manchester City desperate to pick up the three competition points against a desperate Liverpool side, Balotelli took his place in the Citizens' starting lineup.
And unlike anything else that he does, it was a seemingly mediocre performance from the Italian—nothing exciting or brilliant and nothing to write home about.
The striker made way for Edin Dzeko after 62 minutes of the match, a move that allowed Yaya Toure to venture further forward for City and one that immediately yielded results as Toure netted home inside the six-yard box just one minute after the substitution.
Probably not the best look for the Italian.
And with Aguero injured, solid is simply not enough for Balotelli. He cannot just be solid and expect that Manchester City will win football matches. He must do more in attack and provide the spark going forward for City; he must want the ball and do things in attack—both of which he simply didn't do against Liverpool.
According to WhoScored, Balotelli touched the ball less than any starting player for Manchester City and finished with the lowest match rating for any outfield player for the defending Premier League champions. He did not create any opportunities, was disposed more than any other City player, completed his passes at a woeful 62 percent and had just one shot to speak of the entire match.
It wasn't even on target.
For a starting striker at a relegation-bound club, Balotelli's performance was mediocre. For a starting striker at a title-contending club, Balotelli's performance was simply not good enough.
His performance might be adequate with Aguero completely healthy and Carlos Tevez getting gifted goals by Martin Skrtel, but when both of those things don't happen, Balotelli could well be found wanting if he does not improve.
We know he can score great goals, and we know he can do so much more in attack than what he showed against Brendan Rodgers' men, but the fact remains that potential is simply not enough in the English Premier League.
Balotelli must do more for City in the weeks to come—otherwise, their attack will suffer, and they will struggle to win matches that they otherwise would have cruised to victory in with Aguero and Tevez at the helm.
The Italian international no doubt thinks he's one of the best strikers in world football, and he has been handed a fantastic opportunity to prove just how valuable and important he can be for Manchester City this season.
But with performances like the one against Liverpool, Balotelli isn't proving anything at all, other than how important Sergio Aguero truly is to the club.
What did you make of Mario Balotelli's performance vs. Liverpool?
Comment below or hit me up on Twitter: Follow @dantalintyre
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