Brendan Rodgers has confirmed Mario Balotelli is in line to make his Liverpool debut during Sunday's match with Tottenham.
The Northern Irish boss' update was tweeted by the club's official Twitter account early on Wednesday morning:
James Carroll of Liverpool's website also posted lengthier quotes from Rodgers:
I think by the weekend (Balotelli will be ready to feature). He's been into pre-season and he's played three 45-minute games. He might not be up to full match speed, but he's looking fit.
We've done some analysis on him. The medical and sports science team have worked with him already and he's in very, very good condition. He's in to work and he'll be available for the squad for the weekend.
While this doesn't confirm whether Balotelli will start or come off the bench, Reds fans will be pleased to see the former AC Milan striker brought into contention at the first possible opportunity. Liverpool lacked incision and attacking power during their 3-1 loss to Manchester City, something Balotelli can provide from the off.
Should Mario Balotelli start against Tottenham?
It is likely the Italian will be planted right in the centre of Liverpool's attack when he does make it onto the field. Daniel Sturridge could be pushed wide, or given a free role, to ensure the energy doesn't drop and that Balotelli is provided with plenty of service inside the box.
Raheem Sterling will also be key to ensuring the new man isn't left isolated, while Lazar Markovic's work rate could be utilised if Balotelli is brought on as a lone striker in place of Sturridge. Rodgers has certainly given himself plenty of options with the acquisition, especially when Rickie Lambert is looking to make an impression after narrowly failing to score against City.
Balotelli's questionable history, much of which was established during his time with the Etihad club, doesn't overlook controversy against Spurs. In 2012, former manager Harry Redknapp suggested Balotelli should have been sent off for kicking Scott Parker "straight in the head." A few months prior, Balotelli was sent off against Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool after receiving two yellow cards in front of the Kop.
He is an impact player—for better or for worse—there's no doubt about it. Balotelli scored 14 in 30 Serie A appearances for Milan last season, per WhoScored.com. His best haul in the Premier League currently stands at 13 goals in 14 starts and nine substitute appearances during 2011-12, something Rodgers will hope he can improve at Anfield.
Since 09-10, Balotelli has also racked up 48 bookings and five red cards in domestic-league play, Europe and internationals. Rodgers has already joked the player will bring "trouble" to Merseyside, per Dominic King of the Daily Mail, but this throwaway quip is built on solid foundations. Aside from his on-pitch misbehaviour, Balotelli's shenanigans off the field also need to be quelled.
Football writer Nick Miller isn't convinced Rodgers has total confidence in the player:
Sure this has been covered, but Brendan basically saying 'we couldn't get much else' & 'he's a risk' isn't the greatest start for Balotelli.— Nick Miller (@NickMiller79) August 26, 2014
It would be typical Balotelli to make a goalscoring impact during his debut. He is the type of player who hushes his critics with a telling strike, before doing something regrettable a couple of games down the line.
Rodgers will be pleased to have captured a proven Premier League goalscorer, however, even if it is someone whose full potential has only ever shown in snippets during his career.
Balotelli's performance during City's 6-1 Manchester derby win, plus his famous display against Germany at Euro 2012, rank up their with his best. Rodgers will be optimistic of helping the player reach this level on a more consistent basis, and without the nonsense in-between.