Welbeck vs Balotelli: A battle of two €20m strikers

December 19th, 2014

Both frontmen moved clubs for the same amount of money this summer, but one has adapted to his new surroundings with ease while the other has floundered badly

By Harry Sherlock

As Arsenal prepare to face Liverpool this weekend, they can do so safe in the knowledge that their €20 million investment is paying off.

Danny Welbeck, lured from Manchester United on transfer deadline day (following a late plea for extra time) has slotted into a starting XI bursting with pace and power. Liverpool, meanwhile, have a problem with their own €20m investment. Mario Balotelli, signed from AC Milan, has struggled under the burden created by a Luis Suarez-shaped void at Anfield.

Arriving in England off the back of less-than-glowing reviews in Italy and his agent even proclaiming that this was his “last chance” to prove his worth, Balotelli has roundly failed to re-adjust to Premier League life.

Never a prolific striker, Balotelli is yet to score or assist a goal in the league for Liverpool, with his form for the Reds reminiscent to that of his final season with Manchester City when he notched just once before a mid-season move to boyhood club Milan.

Balotelli has cut a forlorn, frustrated figure at Anfield, with his apparent lackadaisical approach in sharp contrast to that of Suarez. The Italian has created just seven chances for team-mates from open play this season – full-back Alberto Moreno, in comparison, has created twice that amount while Welbeck has created 25.

With Alexis alongside him in a Gunners line-up that has scored 28 league goals, Welbeck’s profligacy – he has scored three times and averages a goal every 387 minutes – can, to some extent, be forgiven. He was never prolific at Old Trafford, but he has proven that he can play an integral part in a top team.

And while Welbeck has regularly brought others into play, Balotelli has often looked isolated. Often picked as a lone striker, Balotelli’s role is arguably more important than Welbeck’s; he is the focal point and must involve his team-mates. With no assists and no goals, he is doing neither.

With 30 shots to his name, Balotelli has tested the opposition goalkeeper 16 times – the same number as Welbeck – but his inability to work with those around him, including the likes of Raheem Sterling and Steven Gerrard, suggests selfishness. While that trait has resulted in spectacular goals earlier in his career, it is getting him absolutely nowhere at Anfield, where just last season Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling were working in perfect harmony.

His passing statistics, too, are poor. Balotelli completes, on average, 21.82 passes per 90 minutes with an accuracy of just 71 per cent. Welbeck, meanwhile, completes 28.61 with a completion rate of 85%.

Welbeck also offers the threat of a turnover, having managed 15 interceptions this season, or one every 75 minutes, to Balotelli’s two, or one every 365 minutes. The Arsenal man has won 52.3% of his duels to Balotelli’s 35%.

Brendan Rodgers himself has admitted that signing Balotelli was a gamble, and he appears obviously dissatisfied with the Italian. “We brought in the player to give him a chance and we will continue to do that,” Rodgers said in October as the first waves of criticism crashed in. “He is working hard to try to fit into the team ethos here but only time will tell. We will see come January what the team needs.”

Those words are in stark contrast to Wenger, who had nothing but praise for Welbeck when quizzed on the details of the deal that took the striker from Old Trafford to the Emirates, describing him as an “ideal signing” for the club.

Wenger knew what he was getting with Welbeck and has seen him settle quickly in a team requiring precision and accuracy, while Liverpool appear flummoxed by Balotelli’s struggle to click. And they simply do not have the reserves to allow this to go on.

He was never likely to be able to replicate the superhuman heights that Luis Suarez reached in 2013-14 but many hoped Balotelli could at least settle down quickly and start scoring. He now has a job on his hands to reach double figures. With Suarez and Sturridge in their pomp last season, Liverpool had hit 34 league goals by December 17. This year, with Balotelli and Lambert floundering, they have scored 16.

Arsenal, by comparison, are returning to the form that many expected of them at the beginning of the season and have scored eight goals in their last two competitive outings – 4-1 thrashings of Galatasaray and Newcastle – with Welbeck a key player.

Balotelli’s struggles, meanwhile, were summed up against Manchester United last weekend. His appearance from the bench was a promising one – returning from injury, he put in arguably his best performance in a Liverpool shirt, only to be denied time and again by the brilliance of David de Gea – but it was another case of so close and yet so far.

Twenty-four hours prior Welbeck was laying on an assist as Arsenal thumped Newcastle and the England international appears, already, to be an important part of Wenger’s plans.

Balotelli, though, now faces a battle to even make the Liverpool starting XI. He has precious little time left before the January transfer window and if he does not start producing soon, he may well find his days numbered.

In a battle of two €20m strikers, so far there is one clear winner.

Trapattoni: Balotelli will realise he has wasted his career

December 11th, 2014

The Italy forward has once again flattered to deceive this season and the legendary coach has sent a warning to the Liverpool man

Coaching legend Giovanni Trapattoni has warned fellow Italian Mario Balotelli that he will look back on his career and realise he has wasted it.

The striker joined Liverpool this summer from AC Milan in a €20 million return to the Premier League, having left Manchester City 18 months earlier.

The ex-Inter striker failed to impress consistently at San Siro, despite a flying start, and by the end of his spell back in Milan the general frustration surrounding Balotelli sped up his transfer to Anfield.

Again, however, Balotelli has fallen short of expecations. Since his arrival he has only scored twice – once in the Champions League and once in the Capital One Cup – leading many to question why Brendan Rodgers thought the Italian could fill Luis Suarez’s boots.

And Trapattoni, who has trained his fair share of world-class talents and egos during his 40-year coaching career, believes that the 24-year-old will eventually regret his antics on and off the field.

“I do not know how Balotelli’s career will pan out in the future,” the former Juventus and Bayern Munich boss told La Nazione. “But I know that when he hangs up his boots he will realise the many opportunities he has wasted.”

Balotelli has missed the last six games for Liverpool after picking up an injury in November, suffered while training with Italy’s squad for the first time since Antonio Conte was handed the international reins.

While sidelined the Italian has still managed to make the headlines, however, causing controversy by leaving a post on his Instagram deemed by some to be racist, resulting in an FA investigation.

I wish Liverpool players would stop using social media – Ayre

December 7th, 2014

After Mario Balotelli was charged by the FA for a controversial Instagram post, the Reds official admits that misuse of such networks is “definitely an issue” for the club

Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre admits that he would prefer if the club’s players did not use social media after Mario Balotelli’s latest FA charge.

Balotelli caused a stir after sharing an image on Instagram and Twitter that contained anti-Semitic and racist references.

Though the Italian claimed that his intent was anti-racist, he was widely criticised and ultimately charged by the Football Association as the image contained language referring to “ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race and/or nationality and/or religion or belief”.

Though Ayre is satisfied that Liverpool have done everything in their power to warn players of the perils of social media, he concedes that little can be done to prevent controversy from rearing its head.

“Given the choice, we’d love to keep all our players away from social media because it really is a problem,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“I can honestly say there isn’t any more we could do as a club to try to educate our players around this but it still rears its head at least once a season – probably at every club in some form or another.

“One of the problems that all footballers have had for many a year is that they have too much time to kill. In that downtime they seem to put these crazy sort of messages up. It is definitely an issue.

“I don’t think we have got to the point where we would stop people doing it but we certainly have a very stringent policy that all of our players sign. If they step out of line then we punish them.”

Balotelli has until December 15 to respond to the charge.

Liverpool had no choice but to sign Balotelli, insists Rodgers

December 7th, 2014

Currently sidelined with a groin injury, the Italian has scored just two goals in 14 appearances in all competitions and could face Football Association sanctions

Brendan Rodgers insists Liverpool had no choice but to sign Mario Balotelli as the controversial Italian’s struggles on Merseyside continue.

Liverpool splashed out €20 million to bring Balotelli from AC Milan in the summer as Rodgers re-modelled his attack in the wake of Luis Suarez’s departure to Barcelona, but the 24-year-old’s return to England has been frought with problems.

Just two goals in 14 matches in all competitions have been compounded with a groin injury and a Football Association charge for an Instagram post that allegedly contained anti-Semitic and racist references.

But Rodgers is adamant that the signing of Balotelli made sense at the time, given his undoubted ability and Liverpool’s need for another frontman to provide an alternative to Daniel Sturridge and Rickie Lambert.

“As as a club we felt that buying Mario was the solution at the time,” the Liverpool boss told reporters.

“In the summer, we had Rickie Lambert. Fabio Borini looked 100 per cent that he was leaving, and obviously Daniel Sturridge has shown in his career so far that he gets injuries.

“To go into the season with no-one else would have been very difficult for us. It would have been unfair to leave Rickie Lambert, as a 32-year-old, as the only other striker that we had.

“I felt it was a risk we needed to take with Mario because, as a group, we couldn’t afford not to at that time. It was obviously late on and we needed to have someone in.

“It’s something that we can’t regret now. I made it clear at the beginning it was a calculated risk – and that is why he probably cost the money he did.”

Rodgers in the dark over Balotelli incident

December 3rd, 2014

The striker is facing a probe from the FA related to an Instagram post, but the Liverpool boss would not be drawn on the incident after the victory over Leicester

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is yet to intervene in the racism controversy involving striker Mario Balotelli.

The Italian, who is currently out of action due to a hamstring injury picked up on international duty, is facing investigation from the Football Association after posting a picture on Instagram which is alleged to be racist and anti-Semitic.

Balotelli has since apologised for the post, but Rodgers has not been involved in the club’s dealing of the incident.

When asked about Balotelli, Rodgers told reporters: “I don’t know anything about it, I’ve been busy with the team.”

Rodgers was instead focused on his side’s upturn in fortunes and change in mentality after recording two straight wins against Stoke City and Leicester City, with goals from Adam Lallana, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson securing a 3-1 victory at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday.

“What’s important for me is the spirit,” he said. “[The draw against] Ludogorets was a good performance and the weekend [victory over Stoke] was good though it was a tight game. We’ve changed it around and looked at the mentality of the team going into the games.

“This [Leicester] is a tough place to come. They’ve only lost once here this season. We go behind in the game and show the resolve to come back into it.

“The momentum is very important. It’s small steps but we’ll get to where we want to get to.”

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