Balotelli-Why Me

Can Mario Balotelli replace Luis Suarez; turn Liverpool into title contenders?

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On Monday Liverpool did what everyone told them they should do all summer long: replace Luis Suarez.

After selling their prized Uruguyan assest to Barcelona for $128 million in July, Brendan Rodgers used that money to bolster his squad with talented, but not talismanic players, for the Premier League and UEFA Champions League challenge ahead. However, he neglected one area… until now.

[RELATED: Balotelli signs for Liverpool]

Mario Balotelli is back in England, as Liverpool signed up the enigmatic Italian forward for $26 million from AC Milan. That’s a bargain for a player of his caliber. It is a high risk, high reward buy from Liverpool as Rodgers will look like a genius if it comes off, but if Balotelli’s old ways return, there will be an ‘I told you so’ moment. What could possibly go wrong?

Balotelli, 24, starred for Manchester City as a youngster, scoring 30 goals in 80 appearances for the Citizens between 2010-13. His antics on and off the pitch, we will get into that shortly, mean he isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but you can’t argue with his play.

[VIDEO: How will Liverpool cope without Suarez?]

On his day Balotelli is one of the most powerful, exhilarating and clinical marksmen in world soccer. Liverpool have taken a risk to get him on board at a snippet of what he should actually cost. Balotelli has baggage but in recent years he has matured and is certainly worth the gamble Liverpool have taken. Are Liverpool genuine title contenders now that Balotelli is on board? Absolutely.

Without Suarez, many wondered where the goals would come from for the Reds. Sure, Daniel Sturridge scored 21 in the PL last season but aside from him, veteran Rickie Lambert is their only other option up top. Balotelli has PL experience and if he can play as the lone front man with Sturridge underneath him, the duo have the potential to form a pacey, powerful and deadly partnership. Forget S.A.S. what about Balo & Studge? Balotelli’s arrival suggests Liverpool will be there and there abouts when all is said and done this season. Many, including myself, were questioning their top four credentials after failing to nail down a direct replacement for Suarez. Now they have Balotelli, he could hold the key to another title charge, as Liverpool have jumped ahead of Arsenal as the main rivals to Chelsea and Manchester City for the PL crown.

[RELATED: Profile – Mario Balotelli]

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Balotelli posing for a ‘selfie’ with pitch invaders during AC Milan’s U.S. tour.

Losing Suarez’s 31 goals was set to hit Liverpool hard and in their opening game against Southampton, they looked less dynamic going forward but sturdier at the back. With Steven Gerrard and Lucas sitting in front of a new-look back four, the Reds may still take a more cautious approach this season compared to the 101 goals they belted in during the 2013-14 campaign. However with Balotelli on board, they have that ‘x-factor’ back that Suarez provided. Balotelli is the kind of player who will go missing for large chunks of games but then, bang, he will crash in a volley or go on an electric run to tear through the opposition defense.

Alongside Sturridge he would add a real physical presence up front and the fact that Balotelli prefers to drift in and out of midfield, pop up on the wing and get on the ball will suit the way the Reds play. In their fluid 4-3-3 formation, Balotelli can slot into a number of positions but he would thrive as the lone forward. With Philippe Coutinho, Sturridge and Raheem Sterling buzzing in around his flick ons, the Reds could once again rip opposition defenses apart. Against Saints on the opening day, Liverpool looked slightly stagnant going forward. By hook or by crook, Balotelli will get things going. He isn’t afraid to shoot and has scored 30 goals in 54 games for AC Milan over the past season-and-a-half. Mario also isn’t afraid to lash out against teammates, opponents and his manager. With that in mind, Sturridge and Suarez would often shout at each other during Liverpool games last season and be rather annoyed. Balotelli won’t stand for that and it will be very interesting to see how his relationship with Sturridge develops in the early months. Rodgers and his coaching staff will have to put an arm around Balotelli and make him feel loved if they’re going to get the best out of him.

[RELATED: Can Liverpool replicate success?]

In many ways, Balotelli was the final piece of the jigsaw for Rodgers after an impressive summer rebuild. Liverpool needed to bolster their defense, so in came Dejan Lovren, Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo to try and offset the goals lost by Suarez by hopefully conceding fewer. Yet a talismanic forward was still missing. Well, until ‘Super Mario’ arrived.

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Source: Liverpool FC

Was it a gamble to take Mario on board? 100 percent. On the pitch he can lose his head, get silly red cards, sulk and will frustrate the heck out of fans. However, ask any Manchester City fan what they think of Balotelli. They all love him. His enigmatic figure, along with his talent, has taken him to stardom. The man who was allergic to grass, shot fireworks out of his bathroom window, posts pictures of himself dancing, reading a book and ironing, plus plenty of other crazy moments are just the tip of the iceberg as we try to unravel the mystery of Mario. Suarez was obviously a genius on the ball but his biting obsession, alleged racist insults and other issues off the pitch made him a volatile character. Balotelli is in the same mold as Liverpool’s former Uruguayan frontman and has the potential to become as much of, if not a bigger, cult hero than Suarez was at Anfield.

One of Balotelli’s finest, and most memorable moments, sums him up. After scoring for City against arch nemesis Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2011, Balotelli lifted his shirt to reveal a simple message. ‘Why always me?’ Well, Mario, it’s because your talent promises so much and your temperament threatens to derail it.

Without doubt Balotelli is one of the most interesting characters in world soccer and now he will lead Liverpool’s charge for silverware. He is the man they were missing and perhaps the only player crazy enough to think that he could replace Luis Suarez. If he can do it, Liverpool may have just got the bargain of the past decade. If not, everyone will blame Mario. That’s just the way it works.

WATCH: Giovinco’s goal drought is over after a pair of stunning free kicks

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Colorado Rapids during the first half of the MLS soccer game in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP)
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Oh, how we have missed you, Sebastian Giovinco, scorer of amazingly beautiful, video game-like goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

If you can believe it, Toronto FC’s tiny superstar entered Saturday’s clash with D.C. United without a goal in any of his last eight league games. Six minutes before halftime, the drought was over after not one, but two “only Giovinco could do that” free kicks (videos below).

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

It was by far the longest such streak of Giovinco’s (brief) time in MLS, and at least he had the decency to make it worth our wait.

Scholes: Pogba “nowhere near worth” rumored Man United transfer fee

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United looks on during Paul Scholes' Testimonial Match between Manchester United and New York Cosmos at Old Trafford on August 5, 2011 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images
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If a player is only worth what a club is willing to pay them, then aren’t they also worth a price at the top of the pay scale, as long as a club is willing to pay it?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Manchester United legend Paul Scholes doesn’t think so, at least not in the case of Paul Pogba, the highly-sought Juventus (and former Man United, which he left for free) midfielder. Rumored to be the subject of $113-million bid by the Red Devils, Pogba’s footballing future remains a question, though an answer will have to be realized in the coming days and/or weeks, as the 2016-17 Premier League season kicks off 21 days from today.

That’s a price that, according to Scholes, should be reserved for “someone who is going to score 50 goals a season like Ronaldo or Messi” — quotes from the Guardian:

“He was a very talented young player, I played with him and I knew how good he was. He played for the first team maybe once or twice, but from my understanding he was asking for too much money [when he left in 2012].

“For his age, he was asking for far too much money, for a player who hasn’t played first-team football. OK, he has gone on to great things. I think certainly there has been a lot of improvement. He needed to improve if he is going to be a player worth £86m.”

While United may have to pay closer to [$131 million], Scholes added: “I just don’t think he is worth [$86 million]. For that sort of money, you want someone who is going to score 50 goals a season like Ronaldo or Messi. Pogba is nowhere worth that kind of money yet.

[ PRESEASON: PL clubs in action with opening day three weeks ago ]

On Scholes’ assertion that Pogba was asking “for far too much money”: United have finished 7th, 4th and 5th in the last three PL seasons, while in that same time Pogba has gone on to become on of the top five players in the world; meanwhile, none of the world’s 20 best (or is it 50?) players currently play for United. It would have been a risk to pay a 19-year-old with three first-team appearances like a seasoned veteran, to be sure, but so much of succeeding at the top level of the sport is down to hitting pay dirt on exactly that kind of calculated risk. If everyone plays it by the book, no one’s ever going to get ahead.

On Scholes’ obviously fear he may no longer be United’s greatest “Paul”: It’s OK, Scholesy, it’ll be terribly difficult to top in 10 years what you achieved in 18.

MLS Snapshot: Portland Timbers 1-2 LA Galaxy (video)

CARSON, CA - MARCH 06:  Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates after scoring on a penalty kick in the second half of their MLS match against D.C. United at StubHub Center on March 6, 2016 in Carson, California. The Galaxy defeated United 4-1.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are firing on all cylinders these days, having extended their winning streak to four games (six games unbeaten) with a 2-1 victory over the defending MLS Cup champion Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Saturday. The win sees Bruce Arena’s side move to within two and five points of the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield-leading Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas, respectively (the two sides face one another later on Saturday), while the Timbers miss out on their chance to jump two places, up to fourth, in the West. Back to Saturday’s game, Robbie Keane bagged the 80th goal of his time in MLS (to go with 44 assists, bringing the Irishman’s impressive statline up to 124 goals and assists combined in 118 appearances), but it was Gyasi Zardes who scored the winner, just four minutes after Keane’s opener, in the 11th minute. As I’ve opined the last two weeks, the Galaxy are peaking at the right time of year, and the rest of the league should be terrified.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

7′ — Keane taps home at the far post — Keane won’t score many goals easier than this one. Giovani dos Santos teed him up, and fortunately for Keane, Nat Borchers dropped his controller as GdS hit his cross.

11′ — Zardes heads home after another defensive breakdown — Zardes has real striker’s instincts. Let’s let him put those to good use, like he did in making the late run to the back post for the Galaxy’s second goal.

41′ — Valentin rolls one past Rowe for 2-1 — The finish from Valentin is nice, but how about Darlington Nagbe with the skill and the vision inside the penalty area to created the space, time and chance?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Robbie Keane

Goalscorers: Keane (7′), Zardes (11′), Valentin (41′)

Preseason roundup: 10 Premier League clubs in action Saturday

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JULY 23:  Wes Morgan captain of Leicester City holds the International Champions Cup during the Pre Seanon Friendly match between Cetlic and Leicester City at Celtic Park Stadium on July 23, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s preseason friendlies involving Premier League clubs…

Celtic 1-1 Leicester City

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Leicester City winger (and 2015-16 PFA Player of the Year) Riyad Mahrez opened the scoring with a sensational, curling goal guided inside the far post by his magical left foot (WATCH HERE). The Foxes conceded an equalizer just before the hour mark (Eoghan O’Connell), but Claudio Ranieri‘s side still has a number of key players to welcome back into the starting lineup ahead of the opening day for the 2016-17 Premier League season, which is just three weeks from today.

PEC Zwolle 0-4 Southampton

Southampton continued their preseason preparations, under the direction of new manager Claude Puel, with a 4-0 victory over Eredivisie side Zwolle. Nathan Redmond, who arrived from Norwich City in the summer, scored twice on the day (second goal below), while Charlie Austin and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg bagged a goal each.

Portsmouth 3-3 Bournemouth

Bournemouth managed a 3-3 draw with fellow South Coast side Portsmouth, with Lewis Grabban, Jordan Ibe (fresh off signing from Liverpool) and Dan Gosling scoring for the Premier League side.

Barnsley 0-3 Everton

Ross Barkley scored twice and Kevin Mirallas netted the other goal, as Everton, under new boss Ronald Koeman, brushed aside Championship side Barnsley

Elsewhere in preseason action

Bradford City 1-4 Burnley
Rotheram 1-2 Sunderland
Preston North End 1-1 Stoke City
Scunthorpe United 0-2 Hull City
Watford 0-0 Anzhi Makhachkala
PSV Eindhoven vs. West Bromwich Albion — canceled