Manchester City vs Liverpool analysis: Reds will need Mario Balotelli to recover their lost killer touches

The new signing watched from the stands - but Liverpool need help on the pitch

etihad stadium

It had to be in this of all places that he materialised again – insulated against the night with a large dark hat, he served a reminder of the Mario Balotelli we used to know: ruminative, brooding, slightly menacing. There was even a reminder of what always used to pass here in his new manager’s observations on the player he had signed: a striker on whose immediate future Brendan Rodgers’ reputation as a maker of players now rests, in some ways. Asked what Balotelli would bring to Liverpool, Rodgers replied: “Trouble!” with that winsome grin that Roberto Mancini always used to conjure up for him.

But while the night took us back to the endless days of Mario making statements while saying next to nothing – one group interview in those two and a half years, with City’s people on pins when he turned up late – it also told us a lot about how the club which sold him have moved on since he left. Six months after Balotelli disappeared out of the back door, taking his camouflage Bentley with him, Stevan Jovetic arrived through the front and this was his biggest statement of the player he can be. Injuries troubled him last season but Manuel Pellegrini has been telling us quietly for months that this is the man we should be looking at. A good pre-season – five goals – proved the point which he last night served only to reinforce.

Read more: Balotelli takes seat at the Etihad
Match report: Man City 3 Liverpool 1
Player ratings

The first goal was hard on Liverpool, running against the course of the first half even though it demonstrated to a momentarily ponderous Alberto Moreno how much slimmer the margins for error are here than they were at Seville. But the second – initiated by his sweet backheel and finished emphatically – provided a sobering moment for those of a Liverpool disposition who wonder what lies in the land after Luis Suarez.

 

Daniel Sturridge demonstrated in flashes across the course of the night what his own contribution will continue to be. The venom with which he seized on Martin Demichelis’s early error, countering at pace and levelling for Raheem Sterling, provided the same early message which Liverpool had given here last Boxing Day night, when City just about wrestled from them a game which had seemed to be theirs. The sight of Sterling taking a ball on his chest and swivelling to volley reinforced the point. Sturridge made equally light work of Vincent Kompany midway through the first half which they had the better of, all told. The contributions of Philippe Coutinho and Joe Allen in that period reinforced the sense that these players of Rodgers grew across the course of last season.

But City delivered the killer touches – those unpredictable, unscripted game-changing moments that give a defence cause to worry and especially a defence with the vulnerability that Liverpool’s once again displayed last night. Those were the kinds of moments that for as long as Suarez was in town Liverpool could expect to see from their team, too. There were fewer here.

Rodgers believes that Balotelli can be a deliverer of them, too. The manager had something more serious to say about him last night – based, he declared, on a three-and-a-half-hour conversation the two of them had had. “Most players I like to sit down and look in the eye and see the honesty and the humility that they have and I saw that when I sat with him and I spent a bit of time with him,” Rodgers said. “He’s a very bright boy. He was very clever. He’s a really good guy and I’m excited to work with him because that’s the type of talent I like to work with – someone that we can improve both as a football player and a person.”

 

Creating any focus for him and a sense of responsibility was impossible here, though, and Milan’s willingness to sell suggests nothing has changed. City, in the end, even appointed a housekeeper – a Mrs Doubtfire type – whom they knew would not be affected by his celebrity or take any nonsense. The idea was that she might be a surrogate for his tiny, indefatigable adoptive mother. It was a lost cause. Even his return to Milan 18 months ago – an hour west of the family home in Brescia – could not bring out some sense in him.

“If we see the Balotelli of Euro 2012, then I’d say it’s a great signing, but I don’t want to see the Balotelli we saw at City in a Liverpool shirt; petulant, stupid sendings-off, walking about…” Jamie Carragher said, more in hope than expectation. “I played against him two or three times and he did nothing in the game. You knew if you got tight to him and put him under pressure, he’d fall out of the game. We’ve got to see more than that.”

Rodgers can reflect that £16m is a steal. But the early evidence suggests that he cannot afford merely occasional Balotelli brilliance. Rodgers needs to lead him right into the light. If he succeeds, he will be justifiably deemed a football genius.

Suggested Topics
News
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
people70-year-old was most famous for 'You are So Beautiful'
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballLatest score and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
The US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'