Brendan Rodgers said today that he would conquer Mario Balotelli’s more unpredictable instincts by giving him responsibility – starting with the job of picking up an opponent to mark at defensive corners, for the first time in his life.
The Liverpool manager, whose team beat Tottenham 3-0 at White Hart Lane, was incredulous that Balotelli had never before been asked to mark at defensive corners before this week. He said that in preparation for set-pieces he had insisted on the Italian doing so and believed that by giving more responsibility to Balotelli, the player would respond.
Rodgers said: “Mario's a good guy, a good man. If you take away the circus that surrounds him, and the circus he invites himself sometimes, and control the background noise, and get him focussed on his football … he's a good fella.
“He'll make mistakes, but I think you saw him get his reward for a real good week’s work with the team. He was fully focused on football: working, pressing, disappointed not to score but you can see he'll be a handful for defenders. He is now at an age where he has got to show maturity. I am giving him responsibility. For the first time in his life, he marked at a corner. Serious! An international player who has won three titles in Italy, cups, the Champions League.
“We were doing corners [in training] and I said to him, ‘I’m putting you on [a man] at [defensive] corners. He said: 'I don't mark at corners.' I said: ‘You do now!’ He went in and he had a great header from a corner. Treat him like an adult with responsibility …”
Balotelli played for an hour and had two chances in the first half to score. Liverpool’s goals were scored by Raheem Sterling; Steven Gerrard from the penalty spot and left-back Alberto Moreno. Sterling could have had another with a great run which was not matched by his finish - prompting Rodgers to say: “Raheem ran into the box like Ricky Villa and finished it like Ricky Gervais”.
Gerrard’s penalty meant that he has now broken Jan Molby’s club record, with 43. Rodgers said that before the game Balotelli had inquired as to whether he could take penalties. “He [Balotelli] has got a great record,” Rodgers said. “He asked me who was on the penalties. He's scored 26 and only missed one. So he had every right to be asking. But Steven Gerrard is the penalty taker I nominated when I came in. So there will be no argument. Stevie showed great composure again.”
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino said that referee Phil Dowd’s decision to award Liverpool a penalty for a tug by Eric Dier on Joe Allen was “soft”. He said: “I’m disappointed with the result. We had key moments in the game. In the beginning it's true we conceded the first goal, but we competed well in that first half. We had the one on one, too. Then a very soft penalty, at a key moment in the game. And at 2-0 down we tried, but we were unlucky. I'm disappointed.
“From the dug-out it [the penalty] is difficult to see, but it's true I want to see this again. From my point of view, it was pretty soft.
“We are a team who are still improving, still learning. We were up against a very good team who almost won the Premier League last season and have built the team for more than two years. But that's no excuse. This was unlucky, maybe, but in the key moments of the game we lost it.”
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