Liverpool's summer spending has continued with the £16 million acquisition of Mario Balotelli from AC Milan.
But opinions are divided as to whether the Italy international is the right signing for Brendan Rodgers' side. Goal assess the pros and cons of the striker's switch to Anfield.
After Luis Suarez, Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers might be inclined to believe they boast a certain amount of experience in dealing with episodes of - to put it very kindly - bad behaviour.
Whatever hurdles the Reds have to overcome in their management of Mario Balotelli, they can rest assured the Italian will probably not be caught up in the same troubles as Suarez.
The 24-year-old arrives at Anfield following an underwhelming spell with Milan but while his talent has rarely been in question, his disciplinary record has.
Liverpool fans might be encouraged to hear, then, that Balotelli collected only one red card during his time in red and black, which was shown for dissent after the final whistle brought to an end a 2-1 defeat to Napoli.
His 14-goal return in 2013-14 was unremarkable given the 12 he had scored in 13 games the previous season after leaving Manchester City, but surrounded by stars he was not; of the rest of a Milan team which failed to qualify for Europe, only Kaka and Sulley Muntari scored five or more.
Critics have pointed out his poor shot conversion rate, but that stat is more a result of Balotelli shooting very frequently - admittedly perhaps too often - than it is an indicator of profligacy in the opposition penalty area.
Better to be shooting plenty and to need to fine tune your game than to find yourself struggling for sights of goal. In 2011-12, Luis Suarez was firing shots away at will but only scored from 8.6 per cent of them; two years on, that figure had grown to 17.1 per cent under Rodgers’ tutelage and Barcelona were ready to break the bank.
Balotelli can justifiably feel, meanwhile, that the role he played in City’s title-winning season under Roberto Mancini has been underplayed. In one 14-game run after Carlos Tevez had decided his future lay elsewhere, Balotelli scored 11 goals and netted City’s first two in the 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United.
Another double later that season helped salvage a 3-3 draw against Sunderland as United took control of the race for the championship, and it was Balotelli who stretched in desperation to feed the ball to Sergio Aguero for the most famous goal in Premier League history.
It is natural to view a move for such an enigmatic player as a risk but there is little real downside for Rodgers and Liverpool. Balotelli guarantees goals - at least for a while - and if he disrupts the Anfield dressing room there will be plenty of suitors willing to pay the Reds their money back, or thereabouts, as his moves to City and then Milan have demonstrated.
If ‘Super Mario’ finds Merseyside a place he can call home, on the other hand, there is no more talented replacement for Suarez available for anywhere near the £16 million Liverpool have paid.
- By Oliver Platt
There has always been signs of a world-class striker trying to break out of Balotelli. The cool finish in City’s 6-1 mauling of Manchester United at Old Trafford, the thumping effort against Germany in Euro 2012 which left Manuel Neuer rooted to the spot. Goals scored in key games.
But for all the flashes of talent, it is consistency, the hallmark of any leading forward, which has eluded Balotelli.
At City, you never knew which side of the Italian you were going to get. And more often than not, particularly as his relationship with Roberto Mancini began to deteriorate, the striker who turned up was often sulky, rash and a hindrance to the team.
The move to AC Milan rejuvenated Balotelli by giving him an extended run as a first-choice striker. But while his record during his second stint in Serie A looks impressive at a glance - 26 goals in 43 appearances - he still falls short of what it takes to immediately become Liverpool’s talisman.
Balotelli’s haul at Milan was bolstered by his composure from dead-ball situations - 14 out of the 26 were either penalties or free-kicks. From open play, the Italian’s highest-ever return in a league campaign has been just 10 goals, and that came in his second season at City.
Last season’s chance conversion rate of 13.33 per cent was eclipsed by Daniel Sturridge (24.71%), Suarez (20.39) and even Wilfried Bony (17.58), who was targeted by Liverpool earlier this summer and is valued at a similar level by Swansea City.
Since Suarez’s exit, Brendan Rodgers has maintained that it was Liverpool’s system which allowed the Uruguay international to flourish. While this is true to an extent, Suarez’s work-rate played a significant part in making Liverpool such a threat in the final third.
Will Balotelli replicate the same ethic as Suarez at Anfield? Judging by what we’ve seen of the 24-year-old in the Premier League, the evidence suggests Liverpool’s attacking trident will not always be firing on all cylinders.
In a system which relies so heavily on interchanging forwards and strikers who press defenders, it’s difficult to envisage Balotelli seamlessly fitting into Rodgers’ philosophy.
Particularly towards the end of his time at City, Balotelli was considered as a disruptive passenger in the club’s title challenge. His lack of contribution over a prolonged period outweighed the fleeting moments of brilliance.
Now with the same title aspirations as City, Liverpool can ill-afford a Balotelli who hasn’t advanced from his time in the Premier League.