Mario Fantastico, Mario Magnifico, Mario, Don't take the penalty though
Just when I thought I could finally write about Mario Balotelli without having to somehow justify his ability, here we go again with penalty gate. If you weren't aware Liverpool actually won last night thanks to a Balotelli spot kick but you'd be forgiven for not realising that what with the uproar.
Rodgers fielded a strong team and stuck with his now cemented formation of three at the back and Daniel Sturridge up top.
The first half resembled almost every Liverpool game of late. Loads of movement, some real fluidity which, granted is brilliant to see however I personally find it very frustrating watching this style of play when you are forever waiting for an end product.
Liverpool have countless players with the talent to create space and make dangerous breaks but what's the point when you can't balance that with goals? I don't want to sound too harsh because we've been doing really well lately but I'd just much prefer to see us play with two up top sometimes.
The first half rattled on with the odd chance, an absolute screamer from Alberto Moreno stood out particularly but the Reds just couldn't get off the mark. Besiktas meanwhile positively for the Reds were looking very lacklustre. They're extremely reliant on Demba Ba and he only managed to trouble Mignolet on a few occasions.
The second half began in very much the same fashion for the Reds. Once again Brendan Rodgers stuck with his formation clinging on to the hope that we would eventually find a goal and to be fair, we usually do find a goal but on Thursday evening this wasn't the case.
Until of course Brendan realised he had to change something and brought on Mario Balotelli. I'm not a massive fan of Lovren but his introduction allowed Can to move forward and created a formation that I much prefer if I'm honest.
Balotelli's input was immediately noticeable, he was causing problems for Besiktas, winning balls and fouls left, right and centre. And contrary to popular belief he was moving, getting himself in good positions. At one stage you could be forgiven for thinking Sturridge and Balotelli had swapped places as a selfish goal obessed run from the former left the latter lurking in space in front of goal wondering why he hadn't received a pass. But that's alright, nobody cares when it's Balo, switch the roles there and you'd never hear the last of it.
And then of course, we're on to the penalty.
At 84 minutes Jordan Ibe was brought down in the box after being set up by a brilliantly timed Balotelli pass. Ibe needs highlighting here because despite not scoring he looks a quality player and is really growing with confidence, it's only a matter of time before he finds the back of the net. For me, seeing Balotelli, Sturridge, Ibe AND Sterling on the pitch was very, very exciting.
It was definitely a penalty, for once that isn't what everybody was arguing about. Instead it was all eyes on Balo. This is a man with an immense penalty record, slate him all you want he's as cool, confident and as calm as anyone from a spot kick and in my opinion if Steven Gerrard is not on the pitch Mario Balotelli should be taking the penalties everytime.
After making it clear to Hendo that he wanted the spot kick, there was no "snatching" of the ball as the papers would have you believe, there was a disgruntled conversation which ended with Hendo being very diplomatic and passing Balotelli the ball. Henderson needed to be challenged in my opinion and Mario Balotelli was right to stand his ground.
He of course converted a cracking penalty and had once again played a big part in Liverpool winning the game after featuring heavily against Crystal Palace assisting the winner and netting another winner against Spurs.
His spot kick had sealed the Reds the win but the debacle didn't end there. Captain Steven Gerrard with a few slips of the tongue chatted on ITV like he was in the dressing room. At a time when Balotelli is finally doing well and the team as a whole is performing well it seemed a bit strange for our usually perfect captain to be so divisive. I honestly think Gerrard's point was more related to the fact that Henderson was undermined and not that Balotelli had taken the penalty but the fact is, Henderson needed to be undermined. I love Henderson but he should not be top of our penalty takers list, no way.
Brendan Rodgers has thankfully (after being petulant post match and not admitting who the designated penalty taker was) now explained the situation. When Gerrard is off and Balotelli is off the penalty taker is Henderson, when Balotelli is on it's Balo, when Gerrard is on it's Gerrard.
Apparently there was some confusion because Balotelli didn't start the match but for me that's daft anyway because as soon as Balotelli comes on you should know as a team that he's your man for a penalty.
I simply cannot believe the way this has been blown out of proportion, people are genuinely angry with Balotelli, there's fans who feel he was disrespectful etc etc and each to their own opinions of course, everybody is entitled to them. However I just don't get it, they ask for Balotelli to prove himself so he takes a massive decision to cause a bit of a dispute, own the penalty that his initial ball effectively won and put the weight on his shoulders to ensure, after all the stick he's been getting that he converts the penalty and wins the important game for his club. He should be getting credit here but once again he can't win.
It's bloody ridiculous.
Anyway, the main point is Liverpool did in fact win and thank god because it's going to be hard enough playing in Turkey with a lead let alone without one!
I asked you for your thoughts on the game and here are a few of the tweets I received:
@LFCKirstyLFC Based on last night Jordan Ibe is going to be a monster player for us AND he's still only 19!
— R Thomas (@GRravski) February 20, 2015
@LFCKirstyLFC Balotelli right. Sturridge Greedy and childlike. Mignolet solid again.
— Gavin (@GavlarLFC) February 20, 2015
@LFCKirstyLFC Mario should of took the penalty Danny had a bad game and Henderson was wasteful from set plays all night
— Lfc die hard (@Lfc19888) February 20, 2015
Next up for Liverpool is Southampton.