Balotelli is the scapegoat at Liverpool – Richards

The England international feels his former Manchester City team-mate has been unfairly singled out at Anfield while revealing his own future lies away from Fiorentina

Mario Balotelli has become an easy target for critics because of Liverpool’s bad season, according to former team-mate Micah Richards.

Balotelli was criticised throughout the 2014-15 season in which he netted just four goals in 26 appearances in all competitions for Brendan Rodgers’ side.

However, the Italy international was only one part of the problem at Liverpool as they finished sixth in the Premier League – eight points off the final Champions League place.

And Fiorentina defender Richards, a league champion with Balotelli at Manchester City in 2011-12, said the 24-year-old was a scapegoat whenever the Reds’ performances were called into question.

“I love Mario. I still speak to him now. I think he’s a great player too,” Richards told the Daily Mail .

“At City he was probably still a bit immature. He then came back to Italy and developed more. He impressed at the World Cup.

“But now he’s at a club where everyone seems to have an opinion. And when the team wasn’t doing well, he’s become a target.”

Richards also said he was likely to leave Fiorentina, where he is on loan from City, at the end of the season and is hopeful of joining a club where he can play regularly.

“I’m more tactically aware now. People forget I was 18 when I made my England debut. Two years before that I was playing academy football.

“You can’t be tactically brilliant at 18. I was thrown in at the deep-end at Manchester City. I’d make mistakes and my pace and strength would get me out of trouble.

“I think I’ve improved hugely in that area. I’m much more tactically aware. I’m 26 now and I feel the next five years will be my best and I want to join a club where I’m going to play.

“Being out of contract this summer hopefully I’m in a good position.”

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