Suarez and Torres back at Anfield for Gerrard-Carragher charity clash

March 29th, 2015

The LA Galaxy-bound man scored from the penalty spot to help his side come back from two goals down in an entertaining exhibition match featuring many ex-Liverpool legends

By Tom Maston at Anfield

As Luis Suarez, Fernando Torres and Xabi Alonso returned to Anfield to take part in Liverpool’s All-Star charity match, it was left to the man the event was organised around – Steven Gerrard – to provide the firepower.

Organised to raise funds for the Liverpool FC foundation, a host of past and present Reds stars, as well as a number of familiar Premier League faces, played out an entertaining draw that, for all its star names, lacked quality at times.

Jamie Carragher’s XI took the lead inside the opening ten minutes with Mario Balotelli curling in from 25 yards to leave Brad Jones helpless. The Italy international has struggled to endear himself to the Anfield faithful since his arrival from Milan in the summer, but proved the value he can offer when given a strike partner with whom he can work alongside.

Too many times, particularly in the first half of the season, the former Manchester City man was forced to plough a lone furrow up front for Brendan Rodgers’ side, but with Didier Drogba alongside him he was the outstanding player in a first half that’s pace was ideally suited to his languid style of play.

Along with Drogba he repeatedly stretched the opposition defence, and the pair combined to devastating effect to double their side’s lead as Balotelli’s fine through-ball allowed the Chelsea forward to break the offside trap, round Jones and finish into an empty net.

FAMILIAR FACES | Luis Suarez and Fernando Torres, now battling it out in La Liga with Barcelona and Atletico Madrid respectively, returned to Anfield for the match
Gerrard’s team were otherwise enjoying the majority of the territory, with Thierry Henry a willing runner ahead of serial diagonal-pass merchants Gerrard and Alonso, though the former Arsenal striker’s touch did elude him on occasion.

The forward-turned-pundit did provide one of the afternoon’s highlights however, as an outrageous piece of skill led to an opportunity for Ryan Babel on the edge of the box, only for the Dutch winger to fire his shot wide of the post.

Instead it was left to Gerrard to bring his team back into the match as he converted from the penalty spot after Martin Kelly felled the impressive Jerome Sinclair in the penalty area.

Gerrard’s brother, Anthony, came close to equalising shortly before the break with a rasping 20-yard drive his more illustrious sibling would have been proud of, though Pepe Reina was able to force it over the bar.

Moments later the Bayern Munich goalkeeper made an emotional farewell to the Anfield faithful, with many feeling he was not given the opportunity to properly say goodbye when Rodgers somewhat controversially chose to replace him with Simon Mignolet in the summer of 2013. The ovation afforded to Reina as he was substituted around the hour mark was proof enough that his role in the club’s recent history is not forgotten.

Suarez and Torres were introduced to rapturous applause at half-time, and though the overall quality fell away in the second 45 minutes, the duo were able to bring the crowd of 44,903 to life with the odd piece of superb attacking play.

Indeed it was Suarez who won Gerrard his second penalty of the game as the Uruguayan went to ground following the slightest of touches from Carragher. In his previous life as a Premier League player he may well have been chastised for going down so easily, but here it was laughed off by all concerned as Gerrard sent Peter Gulacsi the wrong way from 12 yards.

Both sides pushed for a winner in the closing stages, but neither could find the all-important third goal on what was a special day for any modern-day Liverpool supporter.

Balotelli is going through a bad patch – Bonucci

March 27th, 2015

The Juventus centre-back has implored his compatriot to change his ways and put in more effort if he wants to be back in the Italy squad

Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci has warned that Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli must raise his game if he wants to play under Antonio Conte.

Balotelli is yet to feature under Conte, with his last appearance for the national team coming in their World Cup exit to Uruguay in June 2014, although he did make November’s squad before pulling out due to injury.

The striker’s form for Liverpool has done little to suggest he will be back any time soon, but the Juventus centre-back can see the benefit of a fully-fit and a hungry Balotelli in the squad.

“Mario is not in a good period of his career,” Bonucci told reporters. “However, he was an asset in Euro 2012.

“He is welcome in this team, but he has to be part of our group. This team is devoted to hard work.”

Contrastingly, Bonucci was full of praise for Conte – whom he was coached by at Juve – for instilling a rock-solid defensive philosophy to Italy’s play since replacing Cesare Prandelli after their World Cup 2014 group-stage exit.

“Our defensive line is so strong thanks to our coaches,” he added.

“Conte has introduced us to playing with a new defensive style. When we are organised on the pitch, it is easier to play in defence. In addition, we know each other very well. We have played a lot together.”

Italy are in action on Saturday when they travel to Bulgaria for their fifth Euro 2016 qualifier. Conte’s men are currently second behind Croatia on goal difference in Group H, with two teams automatically reaching the finals in France.

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Liverpool fan: I calmed down Balotelli

March 24th, 2015

The Italian was set to confront Chris Smalling before Liverpool fan Shaun Leatherbarrow, who was sitting in the front row, calmed the Italian down

A Liverpool supporter has claimed credit for helping his side avoid a second red card in Sunday’s defeat to Manchester United after he restrained Mario Balotelli during a confrontation with Chris Smalling.

Having already seen captain Steven Gerrard dismissed just 38 seconds after his introduction at half-time, Liverpool were already down to 10 men when Balotelli – who was already on a yellow card – was involved in a tussle on the sideline with Smalling.

Balotelli’s momentum saw him end up alongside the advertising hoardings and Shaun Leatherbarrow, who was sitting in the front row at Anfield, said he felt it was his responsibility to calm the Italy international.

“The way I saw it, Smalling sort of shoved Mario off the pitch and Mario grabbed him just to have something to grab on to,” the supporter told the Liverpool Echo.

“I could tell from Mario’s body language he was ready to react and I knew he’d already had a yellow card.

“I was saying, ‘Calm down, leave it, leave it’, and he was saying, ‘OK, OK’. I’m only five foot, eight inches and he’s a big lad so I was struggling to get my arms around him.

“Peter, the lad who sits next to me at the ground, helped me and he’s a police officer who sometimes works at Anfield on match days.

“Afterwards all the lads were laughing and patting me on the back as well as having a go at Smalling.”

Balotelli tells his critics to 'shut up'

March 18th, 2015

The Liverpool striker has come in for stick for his unimpressive performances since joining the Reds but hits out at those who judge him without knowing him personally

Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli has told his critics to “shut up”.

The former Manchester City star has struggled for consistent form since joining the Reds from AC Milan last summer, scoring just four goals in 24 games.

As a result he has come in for strong criticism on social media, with Balotelli deciding to respond to the various taunts with a personal message last night.

“Do you know me?” the Italy international says in a strange video posted on Instagram. “Did you ever talk to me personally? Do you know what I’ve been through in my life?

“You just saw me play football in the pitch so – man, shut up!”

VIDEO: Zhang does 'a Balotelli'!

March 16th, 2015

The Italy international’s famous celebration from Euro 2012 was recreated by Chinese attacker Chiming Zhang at the weekend

Mario Balotelli has had little reason to cheer so far in 2014-15, but that has not stopped Chongqing Lifan attacker Chiming Zhang from recreating the striker’s iconic ‘Superman-celebration’ from Italy’s Euro 2012 semi-final win over Germany in his side’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Guangzhou Evergrande on Saturday.

The 26-year-old found the net around with a calm finish the hour mark after being set up by Jaja and celebrated by taking off his jersey, before striking a pose while flexing his muscles, much to the delight of the home fans.

However, Zhang’s goal eventually counted for nothing as Chongqing failed to add a second in the remainder of the game, leaving them behind empty handed after 90 minutes.

This weekend’s defeat leaves the Balotelli impersonator and his team-mates in 15th place in the table with zero points from two games.

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