Make no mistake about it – Mario Balotelli has been a nightmare signing so far.
No work rate, no appetite, no link up play, and most importantly no goals.
But the Italian is in danger of becoming a scapegoat for Liverpool’s current problems, with his halftime shirt swapping antics doing himself no favours.
But the man who really should take the responsibility for the mess this Liverpool side currently finds itself in is manager Brendan Rodgers.
This is a Liverpool side that simply cannot defend, and has not been able to since the Northern Irishman arrived in the summer of 2012.
The second half of his first season was Liverpool’s best spell defensively of his reign so far – with it coming as no surprise that period coincided the return of Jamie Carragher to the starting line up.
But since Carragher’s retirement, Rodgers has spent £67million on a new back four and goalkeeper with the signings of Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho, Tiago Ilori, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno, not to mention the free signing of Kolo Toure and the loan signing of Javier Manquillo.
All these players – perhaps Toure aside – have time on their hands and could yet come good for Liverpool. But when you consider Rodgers has also overseen the departures of Pepe Reina and Daniel Agger whilst opting to keep the likes of Glen Johnson on the clubs books, you have to question his vision for the Reds defence.
The manner in which the Reds continue to concede from set pieces has gone past the point of ridiculous. It was a common feature of last season as well, but the goals of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge were enough to gloss over it for the best part.
Martin Skrtel is all over the place from every set piece, and seems to have no authority over his fellow defenders whatsoever, something I find staggering considering he is one of the clubs most experienced players. Yet Rodgers backs him as his first choice defender week in week out, so much so that Daniel Agger was forced out of the club in the summer.
Rodgers is always honest in his post match assessments, agreeing that his sides defending is not good enough and that set pieces continue to be a problem. But what good is honesty with no signs of improvement? This has been going on for over 12 months now, and is largely considered one of the most basic aspects of the game.
Whether it is something that is not worked on properly on the training ground, or is more of a mental problem – Rodgers has had long enough and has been paid enough money to rectify something even the poorest teams in the Premier League are more competent at than us.
The 0-3 home defeat to Real Madrid whilst expected, was made all the more embarrassing and disappointing by the fact both Karim Benzema goals came from set pieces – the third coming direct and the second after the Reds failed to clear a corner and get themselves properly set.
Real Madrid are good enough to score any type of goal at any time, as Cristiano Ronaldo’s superb opener proved. The last thing you want to be doing against a side of that quality is gifting goals from set pieces, something that is surely simple and obvious enough.
Conceding 50 Premier League goals last season is what ultimately cost the Reds the title, although the fact Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge helped Liverpool to over 100 goals meant it was a season to remember.
Liverpool have nothing like that threat this season, with Suarez in Barcelona and Sturridge on the treatment table. Which brings us to the signing of Mario Balotelli.
The Italian has done little to endear himself to Liverpool supporters so far, but he is the easy target at the moment for both press and supporters with the Reds continuing to struggle.
Let us not forget it was Brendan Rodgers decision to bring him in during the summer, rather than Loic Remy (who looked fit enough when scoring for Chelsea in midweek) or Wilfried Bony.
I can’t help but wonder whether Rodgers had let all the talk of him improving young players the likes of Henderson, Sterling and Jon Flangan last season go to his head a little when signing Balotelli. For a manager who was also so widely praised for his handling of Luis Suarez, perhaps the Liverpool boss felt he could take on the impossible once more and inspire a forward the likes of Jose Mourinho, Cesare Prandelli and Roberto Mancini have already lost hope with.
It seems when you consider that Balotelli could not be a more different type of player to Suarez, that this signing was designed to further boost the credentials of the Liverpool boss than improve the team.
Rodgers is paying the price at the moment, whilst his post match comments last night seemed to show the first signs of losing patience with the 24-year-old, claiming his tactical substitution of Balotelli for Lallana was to offer the Reds more workrate.
Anyone before the game could have told you Balotelli was not going to offer the same energy and pressing that Lallana produced in the second half, yet Rodgers stuck with him once more.
Whilst Balotelli has been poor at best and a disaster at worse, it is not fair to make a scapegoat of a 24-year-old who has played just 10 matches as a lone striker for his new club. The buck ultimately lies with Brendan Rodgers.
Who is more responsible for the Reds current problems? Mario Balotelli or Brendan Rodgers? Let us know your thoughts below.