Brendan Rodgers Talks Mario Balotelli, Adam Lallana and More in Pregame Presser

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  Manager of Liverpool Brendan Rodgers looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium on December 26, 2013 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers did little to hide the Reds' pursuit of Mario Balotelli during Friday's pre-match press conference ahead of Monday's trip to Premier League champions Manchester City.

The majority of the pre-match focus hasn't been on City or the rivalry between the two title-chasers. Instead, it's been on the proposed arrival of controversial AC Milan forward Balotelli.

The Liverpool Echo reports that a medical is imminent, following fruitful talks:

Unsurprisingly, developments on the Balotelli deal were the focus of many questions put to the Anfield boss at Friday's gathering. Rodgers did his best to resist engaging with the questions, but he said more than enough to hint something might be imminent:

It's a deft attempted sidestep from Rodgers—albeit not a particularly convincing one. He's simply offered the classic non-denial denial managers keep memorised for transfer windows.

While Rodgers wouldn't deal directly with questions about Balotelli, he left little doubt who he was referring to with some of his answers, per Echo reporter James Pearce:

This was a thinly veiled reference to the so-called "behaviour clause" that is rumoured to be in the contract offered to Balotelli, according to Sky Sports.

It certainly makes sense for a club to try to safeguard itself against potential antics from a player known for unsavoury histrionics on and off the field. Of course, Liverpool already know what it's like dealing with a highly temperamental, yet equally talented, striker.

The club waved goodbye to Luis Suarez this summer. He delivered moments of genius on the pitch, but also incidents of appalling misconduct—including bans for racial abuse and biting.

Having dealt with Suarez, Liverpool are certainly brave taking on Balotelli, a player who famously attracted police attention when he set off fireworks in his house back in 2011. At the time, Balotelli was a Manchester City player.

During his stay with the Citizens, he also engaged in several spats with then-manager Roberto Mancini. Rodgers had better know exactly what he has let himself in for.

However, there's no denying the Liverpool boss needs to recruit a top-level striker in the wake of Suarez's departure. Rodgers was certainly clear about that:

Stepping away from transfers and all things Balotelli, Rodgers turned his attention to the not so small matter of preparing for City. The Liverpool chief was quick to minimise the significance of such an early game against a fellow title contender:

Lowering expectations is a ploy that makes sense for Rodgers. A game this early in the season will define nothing.

Liverpool know that better than most, having taken time to really hit their stride last season. Along their route to second, the Reds played two thrilling games against City.

They were very unfortunate to lose 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium in late December. In many ways, that was a game that showed Liverpool's dangerous attacking fluency and set the tone for their title push.

The title seemed as good as headed to Anfield when Rodgers' team bested City 3-2 in mid-April. Obviously, that's not how things finished.

Yet Rodgers says his team won't be scared of the champions. The squad will even be boosted by the inaugural inclusion of a pair of prominent summer signings, per Echo reporter Phil Kirkbride:

Markovic will be joined by ex-Sevilla full-back Alberto Moreno, according to Chris Shaw of

Speaking of signings, Rodgers found time to deliver a positive fitness update on England playmaker Adam Lallana:

That's good news, as is Markovic's inclusion. The creative pair will be key figures for a team whose technical proficiency going forward is as important as its tremendous pace in attack.

Rodgers navigated his press conference well. He knows he won't be able to avoid Balotelli questions until that deal's done.

He also knows that a positive result against City can build confidence about the title potential of a Suarez-less Liverpool.