With the proceeds from the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona adding to the Anfield coffers, Liverpool have embarked upon a summer spending spree designed to bolster a squad which will be competing on several fronts this season including a return to Champions League competition.
Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno have been among the more expensive purchases but it is the recent £16 million acquisition of Mario Balotelli which has raised many eyebrows. Has one controversial figure been replaced by another?
Balotelli is no stranger to controversy and to the Premier League having spent three seasons along the road at Manchester City where he experienced mixed fortunes. Disciplinary problems blighted his time at the Etihad although he did net 13 goals in 23 matches during the title winning campaign of 2011-12.
He then returned to Italy to play for AC Milan and during a two year spell, a further 26 league goals were netted as he courted publicity for the wrong reasons on several occasions. However, his value to an average Milan team could not be discounted and his goal for Italy against England during the World Cup was proof that he is still a very useful goal poacher.
The arrival of Balotelli in the Liverpool dressing room will be questioned and there is no doubt that he will face some very strong characters from within including Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel. However, Luis Suarez was arguably one of the best players in the Premier League last season despite his early suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic in the previous campaign. Such evidence is an indicator that controversial characters in a Liverpool shirt can be tamed after previous misdemeanours and he will certainly offer a fresh if not insurmountable challenge for manager Brendan Rodgers.
Should Rodgers be successful in allowing Balotelli to flourish, it will be a bonus for the Liverpool team with early indications suggesting that they have yet to discover the sparkle of last season. A nervy 2-1 win against Southampton on the opening day was followed by a comprehensive 3-1 defeat by Manchester City at the Etihad. Granted, some of the summer recruits have yet to really settle at Anfield while Lallana is still to feature in the first ream squad but Balotelli will hardly be arriving in peak fitness as the Italian season does not start until the last weekend in August.
An early baptism of fire probably awaits the Italian when he may be selected for his debut away to Tottenham and that will be a real test for Liverpool after the defeat in Manchester. There will be extra pressure on Rodgers and Balotelli that day but a win for the Merseyside team may help to silence a few of the doubters, for now.
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