Has Italy boss taken advantage of Balotelli's struggles?

Italy coach Antonio Conte made a big decision over Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli.

Italy boss Antonio Conte has left out Mario Balotelli for the upcoming Euro 2016 qualifying matches due to poor form.

The 24-year-old joined the Reds for a reported £16 million fee in the summer after it was revealed that former club AC Milan were looking to sell him.

Charged with the task of replacing previous Kop idol Luis Suarez and providing Daniel Sturridge with a reliable partner, Balotelli has struggled so far to make an impact.

The controversial striker has netted just once in the Champions League and has gone five Premier League games with a goal, with many observers criticising his lack of movement.

Ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifiers against Azerbaijan and Malta, Italy Conte appeared to look at Balotelli’s recent form as the opportunity to once again leave him out of the squad.

The former Juventus coach has yet to be convinced by the former Manchester City striker, and he left him out of the squad for the previous encounter with Norway.

Still, Balotelli remains a popular figure in Italy and many have questioned the reason to leave him out – especially as the Azzurri aren’t currently loaded with world-class talent in the forward positions.

Nonetheless, Sky Sports Italia journalist Gianluca Di Marzio has hinted that Liverpool’s decision to bench Balotelli against West Bromwich Albion gave Conte an extra incentive to leave him at home.

“It’s true that Mario played few games in a row without resting, but he can come out from this moment only by playing. Knowing his character, benching him could be counter-productive," he said.

“And for the national team too: if he was called into question, Conte would (will…) immediately seize this opportunity to exclude him from the call-ups.”

“Hints of a breakup? It’s too soon to tell, only a month passed. But Balotelli’s stint at Liverpool is struggling to get off the ground.”

Balotelli has netted 12 goals in 33 appearances for the Azzurri, with his most memorable performance coming in the Euro 2012 semi-final victory over Germany.

His place in the side has been under threat for a while and Southampton striker Graziano Pelle has ultimately been favoured on this occasion.

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