Liverpool were well and truly schooled by holders Real Madrid in the Champions League, but given the way Brendan Rodgers hauled off Mario Balotelli at half-time, the manager has unfairly deflected fans’ scorn away from himself and onto his striker.
Aside from a rallying first 20 minutes which failed to yield that all important first goal for Liverpool, Cristiano Ronaldo and co ruthlessly exposed the hosts’ deficiencies, putting the match out of sight at 3-0 by the interval.
There the scoreline stayed, leaving the holders home and hosed in Group B, while the one piece of good news on a black night for Liverpool was that point-less minnows Ludogorets had beaten Basel 1-0, meaning the English club are still in with a decent shout of qualifying at 8/15.
But rather than the Liverpool post-mortem focusing on yet more calamitous defending for two of Real’s goals – now an endemic symptom under Rodgers’ stewardship – the Northern Irishman has created an easy scapegoat in Balotelli.
It’s true that the Italian has now created a rod due to his ill-advised shirt-swapping actions at the break, but he should still have been on the pitch when the Reds ran back out for the second 45.
Despite a poor decision not to play in Raheem Sterling early on and another notably errant pass when misreading the same player’s movement, it was actually one of Balotelli’s brighter displays for his new club.
His penetrating run down the right and pinpoint cut-back to Joe Allen shortly before half-time was particularly encouraging and could easily have provided Liverpool with a lifeline.
As it was, Rodgers chose to hook his best available striker off for ‘tactical’ reasons and in doing so risked widening the growing cracks in their relationship and unduly made Balotelli the fall-guy for his bungling defence.
Rodgers has frequently told the press that defensive frailties are being addressed on the training pitch, yet every time a ball is delivered into Simon Mignolet’s box it’s as if someone hits the big red button labelled panic.
The blame is a collective one on the defensive personnel, not just Mignolet’s, but ultimately the way they are instructed to deal with such basic defending falls on the coaching staff and the manager.
Questions over Rodgers’ recruitment policy in such a critical area remain and no matter whom he points the finger at, Liverpool will always be vulnerable to defeat until they sort out the defence.
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