Mario Balotelli to Liverpool: Where does the £16m striker fit into Brendan Rodgers' team?
Could his arrival signal a move out wide for Sturridge? Or will Rodgers use the diamond that was so effective when Luis Suarez was in the team?
Plenty of question marks have been raised since Liverpool confirmed the £16m signing of Italian striker Mario Balotelli from AC Milan.
Read more: Reds will need Balotelli to recover their lost killer touch
Balotelli takes seat at the Etihad
Match report: Man City 3 Liverpool 1
Balotelli’s talent and potential has never been in question, but the 24-year-old has often sulked his way through bad performances, while his off-field antics could fill their own episode of You’ve Been Framed. When scoring goals he’s a player capable of getting into the world’s best sides, but his attitude and personality haven’t allowed him to push on to the next level.
In his final 14 appearances as a Manchester City player he scored just one goal, before moving to Milan and scoring 12 in the same number of games.
Brendan Rodgers will now have to find a way to get Balotelli playing to his best as well as working out how best to use the striker, who is much less versatile than the man he is indirectly replacing, Luis Suarez.
Last season, Rodgers switched between a number of formations, using 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and even a 4-4-2 diamond as his attacking side ripped through the Premier League at a swashbuckling pace. Luis Suarez will be an extremely tough act to follow
The key man to their success, of course, was Suarez whose dribbling skills, pace and movement meant he was more often than not free to roam the pitch and find space, causing destruction wherever he picked up the ball.
This allowed Daniel Sturridge to occupy the central area, though he was free to drift out to the right, and act as a poacher while Suarez was more of an all-round dynamo. On top of his league-leading 31 goals Suarez was also second in the league in assists with 12, one behind Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, and according to Opta created 241 chances last season.
Balotelli was only credited with one assist during his time as a Manchester City player and created six in Serie A last season, though of course the numbers are imperfect because of team-mate error. Sturridge was credited with seven and is hardly known for his team play – he has often been criticised for being too greedy during his career; Balotelli is hardly known as the ideal team-mate either.
Rodgers has already said that he will consider the diamond again with these two strikers, but without Suarez’s versatility and willingness to go wide, collect the ball and run at defenders, Liverpool’s new partnership could find themselves jostling for position in the box as both want to be the main man up front.
The formation could also leave Liverpool dangerously exposed at the back – they struggled defensively last season and were torn apart by Manchester City at the Etihad. Some of that is to do with Rodgers’ attacking intent but the formation and the attacking players often leave their defenders awfully exposed. Daniel Sturridge likes to operate as the main man up front
Raheem Sterling’s continued development mean he would likely start on the right hand side of the diamond while Philippe Coutinho would probably start at the attacking tip. Both of those players are keen workers but they have neither the defensive instincts nor physical capability to truly compete with the best midfielders.
Jordan Henderson is a solid box-to-box player but Steven Gerrard is another whose defensive weakness could spell trouble. He was rejuvenated and reinvented as an attacking force last season in the quarterback role, pulling strings and becoming a key reason for Liverpool scoring all those goals on their way to a title bid.
However, against the very best, he allows room and space in the gap between the midfield and attack. David Silva was quiet at the Etihad but he all too often found room in between the lines - Stevan Jovetic was not tracked when he fired in his second goal.
Glen Johnson is much-criticised because of his poor defensive play, while Alberto Moreno made a costly error on his debut and both Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel are perhaps a level below the very best centre-backs in the league. Brendan Rodgers has plenty of questions to ponder
With Adam Lallana yet to play a game and new signings Lazar Markovic and Rickie Lambert also in the mix, it will be interesting to see how he uses his squad.
Time will tell and Rodgers has said he will use a flexible approach to his formation and personnel - Luis Suarez was always going to be impossible to replace and Rodgers has got a player capable of developing into one of the best, despite his troubles.
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