There seems to be consensus online that both Mario Balotelli and the Liverpool team as a whole perform better when the £16m Italian international is partnered by another striker; ideally with Daniel Sturridge (as we saw at White Hart Lane), but also when alongside Rickie Lambert or Fabio Borini.
Whilst it is hard to quantify this performance improvement, I thought I’d take a quick look at Balotelli’s impact in the opposition penalty box when he has played alone compared to when he has had a strike partner.
It’s important to remember that the samples here are small, so may not prove much, but they certainly show a difference between Balotelli playing alone or with one of his fellow forwards.
The former AC Milan man has played 593 minutes in the league and Champions League on his own up top for the Reds, compared to 235 with a partner, so his whole Liverpool career still only amounts to under ten games of pitch time in the two main competitions. Let’s look at how often Balotelli shoots, and from where on the pitch.
The obvious thing to note here is that whilst the frequency of shot overall barely changes, Balotelli shoots more frequently inside the box when he has a partner, and more from distance when ploughing a lone furrow.
Another way to look at it is that solo Balo takes 39% of his shots in the box, but this rises to 67% when he has company up front. It won’t surprise you to see that Balotelli’s pass involvement in the box varies depending on how many strikers Brendan Rodgers puts on the pitch either.
Mario Balotelli has attempted just two passes in the box whilst playing up front on his own, with only one (against Ludogorets, in case you’re wondering) finding a teammate. He has received passes far more often in the box than that either with or without a partner, but as the final column shows, his involvement in passes in the penalty area virtually doubles when another Liverpool striker is on the pitch.
I’ve long voiced concerns that the Italian is a poor finisher, but the figures suggest that to get Balotelli involved in the opposition box and give him a realistic chance of actually scoring in the league, then Rodgers needs to give him some company up front.