Rodgers unhappy with Balotelli work rate

February 21st, 2015

The Liverpool boss insists the Italian was right to take an 85th-minute penalty off Jordan Henderson but believes he effectively stopped running after scoring his spot-kick

Brendan Rodgers insists Mario Balotelli must work harder than he did after scoring a late penalty in Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Besiktas in Thursday’s Europa League round-of-32 first-leg clash.

Balotelli coolly slotted in from 12 yards on 85 minutes after a brief dispute with captain Jordan Henderson over who should take the kick to give Liverpool a narrow lead with five minutes left.

But despite scoring for a second time in three games, the Italian’s overall contribution failed to impress Rodgers, who believes his striker effectively stopped running after scoring his goal.

Asked whether he was satisfied with Balotelli’s performance, the Liverpool boss replied: “No, not really, no. 

“We need to ensure that whatever level of the game we are playing at we have everyone working as a team and once we got the penalty he stopped working. So he needs to improve on that facet of his game to play in his position, rather than standing on the side of the football field.

“He has contributed against Besiktas, he has got the penalty and scored the goal but that is what he is paid to do. He needs to keep that efficiency in his game and show that he can affect the team whether he is asked to play from the bench or from the start. In a different country and a different style of football that goal would be all that matters but in this team there is more to it than that.”

Rodgers did, however, defend Balotelli’s actions in taking the penalty off Henderson after Steven Gerrard accused the Italian of undermining the authority of his captain for the night on the pitch.

“If you’re the vice-captain and the captain is on the bench but he comes on, it is the etiquette to go and then give him the armband,” Rodgers added. 

“It’s a similar thing with a penalty – if Steven is on the field, there is no drama as he takes the penalty. He is the first-choice penalty taker. After that, if Mario is on the field, he takes the penalty.

“His history shows he’s scored nearly 30 penalties in big games, so he is an outstanding penalty taker. At the time when neither of them were on, Jordan was the nominated taker.

“Then Mario was on the field, a pressure situation, and Jordan was happy enough to take it but he gave it to Mario, who gets his goal and there is no drama.”

'We scored the penalty' – Rodgers plays down Balotelli spot-kick furore

February 20th, 2015

The Italian appeared to overrule team orders as he took a spot-kick ahead of Jordan Henderson but the Reds manager has been surprised by the fallout from the incident

Brendan Rodgers has played down the incident that saw Mario Balotelli take a decisive penalty in the Europa League win over Besiktas on Thursday, despite Steven Gerrard’s criticism of the Italian.

The hosts looked set to be heading for a goalless draw in the first leg of the last-32 tie at Anfield, until Jordon Ibe was fouled in the area with seven minutes to play.

Substitute Balotelli – a clinical penalty taker – stepped up to convert the spot-kick, despite stand-in captain Henderson’s apparent desire to take it.

Daniel Sturridge looked unimpressed by the incident and a further stir was caused when injured captain and regular penalty taker Gerrard, working as a pundit for the game, accused Balotelli of “disrespecting” Henderson.

Rodgers passed no comment on the incident after the game, but moved to quell any reports of unrest on Friday.

“There’s been a lot more of a drama made out of it than there actually was,” he told reporters. “We scored the penalty. It’s very clear who are takers are in the team.

“When Steven players he is our No.1 taker. With the players initially on the pitch last night then Jordan was the nominated penalty taker.

“But if Jordan, Steven and Mario are on the pitch at the same time then we normally have Steven and Mario as the penalty takers. It’s really all with the player who is responsible for the penalty.

“Henderson showed last night what a team player he is. And Mario with the composure and calmness to finish it.”

Balotelli v Henderson, Di Canio v Lampard and the players who argued over taking a penalty

February 20th, 2015

The Italian took the ball from his captain on Thursday, but it is hardly the first time team-mates have gone head-to-head over spot-kicks

By Kris Voakes | International Football Correspondent

Who would have thought Liverpool’s Europa League clash with Besiktas could make such headlines? That’s what happens whenever Mario Balotelli is involved, it would seem.

The Italian striker caused new controversy on Thursday by taking the ball from skipper and allotted penalty-taker Jordan Henderson ahead of the crucial 85th-minute spot-kick which decided the contest at Anfield. Balotelli scored, but the fall-out has only just begun.

The incident was the clear talking point after the match, with injured club captain Steven Gerrard – who had previously confirmed Balotelli as his understudy from the spot – telling ITV that the 24-year-old had shown disrespect to Henderson with his behaviour.

“Jordan Henderson should have taken that penalty,” said Gerrard. “I think Mario is being a bit mischievous by stepping in front of him and going against what the manager’s planned.

“Mario would have seen on the board that Jordan was on the penalties and I think he’s shown Jordan a bit of disrespect there.”

Henderson later tried to play down the tiff, which also saw Daniel Sturridge’s claims to the job rebuffed, insisting: “I wanted the penalty, Mario felt confident and he has taken big penalties before. Everyone wants to take them. I felt confident in Mario, he has taken big penalties before and he got the nod.”

And Balotelli took to Twitter to thank the stand-in captain for relenting.

Thank you hendo for let me take the penalty.. Stop drama now. We won that’s what it count. We are a…

— Mario Balotelli (@FinallyMario) February 19, 2015

But Gerrard was also right to bring up the fact this was far from the first time such a situation has occurred.

“Credit to Mario, he’s finished the penalty off but it would have been very interesting if he’d missed it,” added the 34-year-old. “I think we’d have had a similar situation to what we saw at Everton a few weeks ago.”

That incident saw Kevin Mirallas take it upon himself to step up to the spot against West Bromwich Albion instead of regular taker Leighton Baines, only for the Belgian to miss the penalty and suffer the indignity of a half-time substitution as Everton went on to draw 0-0.

Balotelli has himself been involved in a previous spot-kick argument, standing over Inter team-mate Samuel Eto’o as he prepared to take a penalty against Palermo in 2009. It took the strong leadership of Javier Zanetti to settle the dispute, dragging Mario away to allow Eto’o to slot home the opening goal in a thrilling 5-3 win.

Other instances of penalty-spot head-to-heads have led to very costly misses.

Anderlecht have history when it comes to missing penalties in recent years, leading 17-year-old midfielder Youri Tielemans to challenge designated taker Nathan Kabasele against Genk earlier this season. Goalkeeper Silvio Proto eventually had to travel the length of the pitch to settle the dispute in favour of Kabasele, only for him to then miss and Anderlecht to be held to a 0-0 draw.

There have been plenty of other occurrences which have resulted in red faces and hurt pride, including scuffles between Paolo Di Canio and Frank Lampard at West Ham, Roma’s Pablo Osvaldo and Francesco Totti, Juventus’ Arturo Vidal and Mirko Vucinic, and Didier Drogba and Lampard at Chelsea. Meanwhile, Nathan Dyer was denied the chance of a unique League Cup final hat-trick when he was told not to take a penalty when Swansea City led Bradford City 3-0 at Wembley in 2013.

Despair | Brentford were left devastated when Trotta’s miss cost them promotion

But two of the most astonishing penalty squabbles happened within 24 hours of each other.

A penalty dispute cost Davide Lanzafame a red card in 2013 when playing for Honved Budapest against PMFC Matias in the Hungarian leagues. His prolonged attempts to wrestle the ball from team-mate Leandro Martinez delayed the contest so much that the referee ordered the Italian off the field. Martinez netted the kick for the 10 men in a 3-0 away win.

Amazingly, that incident took place just one day after Brentford’s entire season was turned on its head by a similar argument. The Bees needed a win against Doncaster Rovers to secure promotion to the English Championship and were awarded a 94th-minute penalty.

But after Marcello Trotta snatched the ball from regular taker Kevin O’Connor and insisted on playing the role of hero, the Italian’s shot came back off the bar with Doncaster scoring from the resulting breakaway to win the game. Brentford were consigned to the play-offs, where they would lose to Yeovil and miss out on promotion.

So while there might well be recriminations in the air in Liverpool at the moment, it could have been far more costly. Not just games, but seasons too, have been won and lost on such in-fighting.

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'Perfect result' transcends Balotelli penalty squabble – Rodgers

February 20th, 2015

The Italian striker insisted on taking the match-winning spot-kick against Besiktas, overruling stand-in captain Jordan Henderson, but the manager is keen to move on

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says that a “perfect result” is more important than a squabble over Mario Balotelli taking the winning penalty in a 1-0 victory over Besiktas.

Balotelli took the ball off stand-in captain Jordan Henderson to bury a spot kick in the closing stages at Anfield, a change to squad rules criticised on television by injured skipper Steven Gerrard.

But Rodgers was keen to focus on the victory rather than debating the taker.

“We won the game,” he told the press. “We got the win, which is the most important factor. I have a number of outstanding penalty takers with Jordan and Mario and Rickie Lambert. You see the spirit in the team and to get the win was excellent.”

Asked to clarify who the designated taker was, Rodgers replied: “I am clarifying we won the game 1-0.”

Rodgers was full of praise for Jordon Ibe, who was excellent throughout, but denied that the 19-year-old was close to signing a new deal.

“You have seen the kid’s performances since he has come back from loan,” the manager enthused. “He has played in big games and given big performances. He is a real threat every time he gets the ball. Not only that, he works very hard every time he gets the ball. But, no, there is nothing on a new contract.”

Having been comfortable defensively for much of the evening, Rodgers was keen to give credit to the organisation and defensive solidity that his side showed.

He continued: “It was an excellent result and performance and it was always going to be a tight game. I believe Besiktas have scored in every away game so it shows our defensive organisation [that] we kept a clean sheet.

“Simon [Mignolet] had an outstanding save in the first half. We created chances and moved the ball quicker in the second half. It’s a perfect result and sets us up for the second leg next week.”

Besiktas coach Slaven Bilic, a former Everton player, was magnanimous in defeat, suggesting that Liverpool were deserved winners, but warned that the tie is far from over.

“It was brilliant atmosphere,” he said. “Of course, when you concede a late penalty, you are gutted and, from our point of view, it wouldn’t be unfair if it finished 0-0 or 1-1. We deserved a bit more but, from their side, they deserved maybe the one goal.”

Let's stop the drama, pleads penalty rogue Balotelli

February 20th, 2015

The striker was criticised by Steven Gerrard for taking the game-winning spot-kick away from Jordan Henderson but thanks his team-mate for letting him seal the 1-0 victory

Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli has thanked Jordan Henderson for letting him take the match-winning penalty in his side’s triumph over Besiktas in the Europa League, pleading for no more “drama”.

Balotelli struck the only goal of first leg of their last-32 tie from the spot in the 85th minute but injured captain Steven Gerrard slammed the Italian for disrespect after the game, claiming that stand-in skipper Henderson was on penalty duties.

In the lead-up to the penalty, Henderson had the ball but Balotelli took it off him and, with fellow striker Daniel Sturridge seemingly also interested in taking responsibility from the spot, the oft-criticised Italy international ignored any complaints from his team-mates to score.

Balotelli wrote on Instagram: “Thank you Hendo for let [sic] me take the penalty.. Stop drama now. We won that’s what it [sic] count. We are a team and expecially [sic] we are Liverpool. Come on guys.”

It was only the Italian’s fourth goal of the season in all competitions since joining Liverpool from AC Milan but the 24-year-old is a renowned penalty taker, having converted 21 in a row in his professional career before producing his first miss in 2013.

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