Champions League

Balotelli to carry Euro burden

2014-09-15 19:33
Mario Balotelli (AFP)

Liverpool - Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers believes Mario Balotelli has the experience required to lead the line when they return to Champions League action for the first time in five years at Anfield on Tuesday.

Italy striker Balotelli is likely to be the senior striker in a Liverpool side, with Daniel Sturridge set to be sidelined for at least another fortnight with a thigh strain.

Balotelli, a £16 million signing from AC Milan, is one of the Liverpool players with the most European experience ahead of their Group B opener against Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad.

The 24-year-old has failed to score in his first two Liverpool appearances but Tuesday's tie could present the ideal opportunity for the Manchester City striker to get his Anfield career up and running.

"Time will tell. The boy is only just in the door," Rodgers said Monday.

"The best players enjoy that responsibility and I am sure it is one he is relishing but on the training field he is going to work hard to accept that responsibility knowing he has been brought in here to do a job which is to create and score goals and work hard.

"He was unfortunate he was ill last week and it was only on the morning of the game (Saturday's Premier League defeat by Aston Villa) he declared himself fit to play, which shows he really wanted to get out and play here.

"He is also experienced as well. He is arguably one of the most experienced players we have in terms of this competition and international calibre and at club level."

Balotelli was on the receiving end of some rough treatment by Villa defenders Philippe Senderos and Alan Hutton but Rodgers did not expect him to be singled out in Europe.

"We expect the referee to protect all our players, not just Mario," the Liverpool manager said.

"It is a man's game. It is a competitive game but if it oversteps the mark when he's not involved in the build-up then we would expect the referee and officials to look at it," the Northern Irishman added.

"But there are no complaints for me. Football is competitive and strong and we ask the players to be that in our team but be fair in the way we work."

Balotelli has made 29 Champions League appearances, which puts him behind only Steven Gerrard (67) and Kolo Toure (62) among current Liverpool players and has scored seven goals.

Only Gerrard remains from the 18-man squad which featured in Liverpool's last Champions League match, a 2-1 loss at home to Fiorentina in December 2009.

"Absolutely it is a learning curve but it is one which excites us as well," Rodgers said.

"Steven has a great record in this competition, he is the highest goalscorer in the club's history with 28 goals and we have other players who have experience.

"We have a very young squad and they will gain experience -- it is about embracing it. There is certainly no fear of the competition."

Liverpool have been crowned champions of Europe on five occasions, but Rodgers had a more modest aim in terms of this season's competition.

"I think success is about qualifying from the group. We will take one game at a time: we are at home in our first game and we aim to perform well and get three points but we will respect them like we would if we were playing Real Madrid."

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