Sighs of disbelief could be heard and rolling of eyes were apparent in the upper tier of Queens Park Rangers’ School End last Sunday as Mario Balotelli gave arguably his most vacant Liverpool performance yet.
The Italian forward looked lost wandering around up front, a million miles from the game that Liverpool were struggling to keep a hold of throughout.
The two own goals – first Richard Dunne bundling into his own net from close range, then Steven Caulker inadvertently putting in Raheem Sterling’s square ball in the dying seconds – could both have fallen to Balotelli had Dunne and Caulker not got their first, but based on his finishing that day, goals may not have been a certainty.
Liverpool were lucky to escape Loftus Road with a victory, but were humbled by the class of Real Madrid in midweek.
Balotelli had an improved performance in his first half stint, before the facepalm moment of swapping shirts with his marker, Pepe, as the teams walked down the tunnel for half-time.
The shirt swap was most probably innocent and 24-year-old Balotelli was caught in the emotion of the occasion. In his defence, “Why Always Me?” has never been so apt after the fallout that happened.
But it was also an incident that showed Balotelli’s lack of concentration on the game and his role within the team.
Liverpool need goals and, with few options up front, all eyes will be on Mario
Without going as far as saying the former AC Milan striker should be handed the captain’s armband anytime soon, and without wanting to sound patronising, perhaps Balotelli would improve with added responsibility.
Brendan Rodgers is looking for leadership across his team this season with a leaky defence lacking cohesion and a midfield lacking a dynamic player to take matches by the scruff of the neck.
With Daniel Sturridge out injured for another month, the onus is on Balotelli to score goals. That in itself is immense responsibility but a more motivating, vocal approach to his game may make Balotelli a more dominant figure in the Reds’ team.
Going forward Rodgers must challenge all of his team, including Balotelli, to show their leadership skills, organise the players around them and find that natural attacking instinct that gelled the team so well last season.
Hull City arrive at Anfield this weekend off the back of decent results against Arsenal and Newcastle United. Liverpool need goals and, with few options up front, all eyes will again be on Mario.