Mario Balotelli is seen in world football as a bit of a hot head, so it should be no surprise when opponents openly admit to trying to wind the young Italian striker up.
Last season, prior to the AC Milan and Celtic game, the Scottish champions were encouraged to do just that by former Celtic defender John Kennedy when the Bhoys travelled to the San Siro.
‘’You would try and upset him because on his night he is a handful for anyone,’’ said the former Scotland international.
‘’He has been [upset] in the past but it’s important you don’t get too caught up in trying to upset someone else."
‘’You have to remember that you’ve got a job to do in the team. You could get dragged into a one-on-one war with a player to upset him and then forget about the job you have got in the team. It’s important players stick to their jobs, whatever the manager asks them to carry out.’’
The tactic to provoke the Italian international seems to be a well-known and widely used one too. Former Roma defender Mehdi Benatia commented last season that he explicitly wouldn’t provoke Balotelli as he was looking forward to a fair fight.
‘’It’s a shame he often gets provoked and people say he’s a bad guy,’’ said Benatia. ‘’He can relax wth me, I won’t need to say any nasty words to mark him.’’
However, unfortunately for Balotelli, 23-year-old Albanian international Taulant Xhaka wasn’t feeling as forgiving as Benatia and openly admitted to Swiss newspaper 20 minuten in trying to provoke the Liverpool forward.
Xhaka told the newspaper that he said: ‘’You are about to lose, which makes you grumpy, eh?’’ and when the Italian striker failed to respond, the Basel academy graduate joked: ‘’Maybe he did not understand my English.’’
Whether or not the Albania’s jibes worked on Balotelli is not known. However, there was definitely something wrong with the Italian’s performance as he failed to live up to the billing, again, in arguably Liverpool’s biggest game of the season so far.
The loss in Switzerland is obviously a huge blow for the Reds in their quest for qualification to the knockout stages, but the competition is still only young and they have plenty of time to amend their poor showing in Basel.