Jamie Carragher could be in danger of becoming one of those really irritating ex-professionals who offer an opinion on just about everything that doesn’t concern them – think Robbie Savage for example.
With opinion columns, and television analysis twice a week – you can understand why Carragher has so many pearls of wisdom to offer the footballing world.
But no denying, his Monday Night Football analysis with Gary Neville is usually spot on – and last night he made a point that I am praying Brendan Rodgers agreed with.
Previewing Liverpool’s clash with Real Madrid at Anfield tomorrow night, Carragher began to explain the only way he believed the Reds could get anything out of the game.
And that involved dropping a certain Mario Balotelli from the starting line up.
‘He [Balotelli] doesn’t run around enough,’ Carragher said.
‘Against Real Madrid you’ve got to get that crowd going. You need to get back to Liverpool of last year and that pressing. There’s got to be an energy about Liverpool that we haven’t seen; we’ve seen it once this season at Spurs.
‘It’s going on too long now and we can’t keep waiting. It’s a huge game and Liverpool have to get something from it.
‘I would put Raheem Sterling in there because he can run in behind and Liverpool may have to counter-attack a lot of the game. Madrid may have a lot of the ball.
‘Sterling can also press from the front. He doesn’t have to play right up front and he can come back and help the midfield.
‘They can’t have any passengers against Real Madrid.’
Balotelli has been incredibly frustrating to watch in recent weeks. People have continued to talk about his work-rate, which is the minimum requirement for a Liverpool striker, and I would personally only describe as okay – people looking to defend him seem to think he is the reincarnation of Dirk Kuyt.
A lot of the time he looks like he can’t be bothered.
Then of course most importantly is the lack of goals. No player in the Premier League has hit more shots than Balotelli this season – bar Sergio Aguero and Graziano Pelle who have a total of 15 goals between them – whilst Mario is yet to get off the mark from 30 attempts.
He is clearly desperate to score, judging by his wild shooting from almost any angle against QPR on Sunday.
Brendan Rodgers insists it ‘isn’t dropping for the boy’, but massive chances against Tottenham, Everton – with the score at 1-0 – and the horror miss on Sunday suggest otherwise.
For someone so famously confident – he put himself only behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo once – Balotelli’s confidence looks absolutely shot to pieces.
His desire to shoot from anywhere, rather than play a pass to those in better positions shows his desperation to open his account, but has also started to royally piss off his teammates.
Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling all showed signs of losing their patience with the Italian on Sunday.
Balotelli is the sort of ridiculous character to miss a sitter from six yards at QPR, before banging in a worldie against Real Madrid a few days later. But his overall performance levels of late don’t warrant a place in the starting line up for such a difficult game, with Carragher’s assertion that Liverpool cannot afford any passengers against the reigning Champions League winners proving spot on.
Carragher believes Brendan should reintroduce Philippe Coutinho to the starting line up, with the Brazilian coming off the bench on Sunday and showing somewhere near his best at last.
The 21-year-old looks as if a spell away with the Brazilian national side has boosted his confidence, judging by his fine finish and sublime pass with the outside of his foot to set up Raheem Sterling for the 95th minute own goal.
Coutinho’s introduction would see Sterling move into a central attacking role, and give everyone a chance to bring the ‘false 9’ back into fashion.
Liverpool fans are starting to view Raheem Sterling as a pacy teenage Jesus, so often the saviour and one bright spark in what has been a series of dreadful performances.
If the Reds are to get anything from tomorrow’s game, it’s more than likely going to be thanks to Sterling’s pace and skill on the counter attack, as Carragher pointed out.
His best performances have come in that central role in my opinion, and if Lallana and Coutinho can show the improved performances they have done of late on either side, then there is every chance of the Reds causing Madrid some defensive problems.
A midfield three of Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard and the returning Joe Allen has understanding and most importantly work-rate, which looks set to be the most important ingredient to any sort of decent performance tomorrow night. If you want two midfielders willing to chase shadows for 90 minutes without throwing in the towell- something Liverpool are more than likely are going to have to do – then Henderson and Allen are your men.
The same could not be said for Balotelli as a lone striker, and starting a player like that against the best team in Europe would be a fundamental error on Brendan Rodgers part.
Would you start Balotelli against Real Madrid? Let us know your thoughts below.