You don’t have to work for Opta and spend your life hunched over spreadsheets and algorithms to notice a trend in Liverpool’s results this season. Start Mario Balotelli: lose or draw. Don’t start Mario Balotelli: win.
That’s statistical truth, and every passing week produces more data to back up the theory. Since being whacked 3-0 by Manchester United in December, Liverpool’s only loss in all competitions was on penalties to Besiktas in the Europa League. They’ve won seven of their last eight Premier League matches. Balotelli didn’t start any of them. In fact, he hasn’t started in the league since November 8.
Since his move from AC Milan last summer for a bargain $25m, Balotelli has scored one Premier League goal. That’s three goals fewer than Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanović. In fairness to Balotelli, though, one is the same number of goals as his teammate Fabio Borini and only one fewer than fellow attackers Rickie Lambert and Lazar Marković.
Balotelli himself, though, would beg to differ with this negative assessment of his impact. The problem’s not his unwillingness to run around, tackle back and integrate into the team; it’s an unnamed hater who’s cramping his style.
The striker posted on Instagram after the 2-0 win over Burnley: “Someone doesn’t like me. But differently of what they say about me, I’m a team player and I’m so proud of my team,of this win and of these fans! Let’s keep going. Bravi ragazzi!!! YNWA!!!”
Cue speculation about who “someone” is. The manager who didn’t seem to want him at the club in the first place, dropped him, has been unwilling or unable to find a tactical system that suits him and every now and again makes critical public comments? Brendan Rodgers is certainly the prime suspect.
This being Balotelli, though, who really knows? “Someone” could be a random he met in the supermarket, a person in a call center who put him on hold too long or a cat that hissed at him as he walked down the street.