The Mirror has described Brendan Rodgers’ decision to bring on Mario Balotelli against West Brom at the weekend a masterstroke.
The boss dropped the Italian to the bench after he defied his manager and refused to clap travelling Liverpool fans after the Champions League defeat to FC Basel last week.
The message seemed to get through to the forward who linked up with Steven Gerrard as soon as he came onto the pitch against the Baggies, creating chaos in their back four as the Reds skipper was freed into a more advanced role.
“When Rodgers brought the Italian on for the final 26 minutes, Steven Gerrard was liberated from his holding role to a position behind the striker. It was a masterstroke,” reports the national daily.
“Not only did it give Liverpool menace from the No.10 position, it also opened Balotelli’s eyes. With Gerrard alongside, he could not play the entitlement card, saying to a lesser mortal, ‘Give me the ball and let me beat players’.”
Gerrard is a Liverpool icon and was highly critical of the side last week when they fell to that 1-0 loss in Switzerland.
While Gerrard didn’t name names, Balotelli would have likely been on the end of some criticism from the Liverpool captain in the dressing room and he’s one of the players that the striker will definitely listen to.
Gerrard’s role in this Liverpool side has changed over the past 12 months but he’s still one of the best in the business when it comes to breaking from the midfield and getting forward to create an additional threat.
That allowed Balotelli the extra room and freedom which he hasn’t always enjoyed but also ensured he worked hard with the Liverpool captain playing around him at the top of the midfield.
Gerrard certainly doesn’t have to hold Balotelli’s hand but it’s an example of intelligence from Liverpool’s boss at a time when the Italian could well have been thinking of having a very long sulk.