Brendan Rodgers has backed Mario Balotelli to shine for Liverpool in the absence of Daniel Sturridge, reports Sky Sports.
The Italian is set to lead the line when the Reds make their long-awaited return to Champions League action tomorrow night, having struggled to make an impact during the weekend’s shock defeat to Aston Villa.
Balotelli is yet to score his first goal for Liverpool since completing his £16million move from AC Milan, but Rodgers doesn’t think it will be too long before Reds fans start seeing the best of the 24-year-old at Anfield.
And Rodgers will be counting on him tomorrow night, with his 29 Champions League appearances ranking him third behind Steven Gerrard (67) and Kolo Toure (62) in terms of experience in Europe’s elite competition.
“Time will tell. The boy is only just in the door,” said Rodgers.
“The best players enjoy that responsibility and I am sure it is one he is relishing but on the training field he is going to work hard to accept that responsibility knowing he has been brought in here to do a job which is to create and score goals and work hard.
“He was unfortunate he was ill last week and it was only on the morning of the game (Saturday’s defeat to Aston Villa) he declared himself fit to play, which shows he really wanted to get out and play here.
“He is also experienced as well. He is arguably one of the most experienced players we have in terms of this competition and international calibre and at club level.”
Balotelli was on the end of some rough treatment against Aston Villa at the weekend, but the boss does not see the same problems happening in Europe.
“We expect the referee to protect all our players, not just Mario,” he added.
“It is a man’s game. It is a competitive game but if it oversteps the mark when he’s not involved in the build-up then we would expect the referee and officials to look at it.
“But there are no complaints for me. Football is competitive and strong and we ask the players to be that in our team but be fair in the way we work.”