There are very few players who divide opinion as much as him. Capable of moments of madness and brilliance from minute-to-minute, his ability to entertain, infuriate and court controversy are largely unrivalled.
But enough about Luis Suárez. Liverpool need to move on from the Uruguayan and secure a replacement striker. What do the stats tell us that Balotelli can bring to Anfield?
My initial starting point with any striker is their shot conversion rate. When we exclude penalties (and Balotelli scores quite a few of these), the figures don’t make for particularly good reading. Bear in mind that around 10% conversion is league average both in England and Italy.
Believe it or not, if you exclude free-kick goals too then the much maligned Andy Carroll has converted a higher proportion of shots in the last two seasons than Balotelli has, by 5.5% to 5.2%. Hardly a ringing endorsement of the Italian’s ability in front of goal, and it certainly put me off the idea that Liverpool should buy him.
I did a more in-depth analysis of shooting in this recent piece on Loïc Remy, so I thought I’d compare Balotelli’s stats from 2013/14 to those for the aforementioned Frenchman and Daniel Sturridge. These tables reveal in part why the AC Milan man’s conversion rate is so low.
Mario Balotelli had a whopping ninety-four shots from outside the box in 2013/14, which was broadly the same number as Remy and Sturridge each had in total. But even allowing for that, it concerns me that he only converted 9.4% of his shots that were in the box, when the other two were comfortably in the mid-twenties for this.
Balotelli may have assisted Sergio Aguero(ooooooooo)’s league winning goal in 2012, but the figures show that he didn’t create too much of value for AC Milan last season. The table below shows a mixture of Liverpool players, new signings and transfer targets sorted by their average chance quality; in other words, what was the percentage chance that an opportunity created by that player would (on average) be scored, based on where they occurred on the pitch?
Balotelli created chances at a similar rate to both Sturridge and Remy, with his average chance quality being in the middle of the two. Although Mario clocked up six assists, the figures suggest he was perhaps a little fortunate to get so many.
This was for a hugely mis-firing Milan side though, so these figures (as with all the stats here) have to be viewed through that prism. He certainly posted some decent dribbling stats though, as we can see here.
Something else that Balotelli can provide for Liverpool is some Champions League experience. As I wrote here recently, Liverpool don’t have many players who have played in the top club competition, and assuming Agger and Toure don’t play too often, then Balotelli will be the Reds’ second most experienced player in this regard.
The Italian has scored seven goals and has seven assists in the Champions League too, which is an identical tally to the whole Liverpool squad minus Steven Gerrard.
Having reviewed his stats for this article, it seems to me that the key with Balotelli might perhaps be to get him to calm down and not try too hard.
By that I mean that have noticed that he was frequently having multiple shots from poor locations that were blocked or off target. Perhaps as a Milan fan, he was caring too much when they lost games they shouldn’t have, and became more inefficient as a result? Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about.
It was also apparent from the stats that he had very few clear-cut (a.k.a. ‘big’) chances that were not penalties, presumably as a result of Milan’s relative lack of form, which may have forced him to try harder and shoot sooner too.
For context, whilst Daniel Sturridge had a big chance every 91 minutes, and Loïc Remy had one every 140 for a frequently inept Newcastle side, Mario Balotelli had to wait 255 minutes on average for one to come along. No wonder he frequently shot from low quality areas.
At the same time, we can’t entirely exonerate Balotelli of blame for Milan being poor; he was one of their star players after all, so has to take some responsibility.
I’m certainly coming round to the idea of him joining Liverpool, but equally I think it’ll be a long road before the Reds have a clinical efficient striker on their hands.
Is Brendan Rodgers the man to achieve this transformation in Balotelli? His coaching record to date at Anfield would suggest so, but surely not every wayward talent can be reigned in by a manager, if only down to the law of averages.
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the success of Liverpool’s campaign may well rest on how well this transfer works out. I think we will all watch this space with great interest.