Once again, it was all about Mario Balotelli, as Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers fielded a barrage of questions about the Italian striker following his team’s disappointing 3-0 loss at home to Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night. With the score already 3-0 to the visitor, Rodgers curiously took Balotelli off at halftime after the former AC Milan man was spotted swapping shirts with Real defender Pepe as the players walked down the tunnel for the break. After the game, the Liverpool coach insisted that removing Balotelli was tactical, while refusing to reveal what disciplinary action the club would take against him for the shirt-swapping incident.
Instead, Rodgers focused on the criticism the 24-year-old has received for scoring just one goal in his first 10 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions. "Whether the criticism is deserved or not, it's a part of the game, and you have to accept it,” he said. “It's one where the boy is genuinely trying very, very hard. ... As long as he's doing his best, that's all I can ask for as a coach and as a manager. Whether that best is going to be good enough in the longer term, that remains to be seen. But that's the same for every player, not just for Mario."
After fielding four questions in a row about the Italy international, Rodgers’ patience wore thin. "Is this the Mario Balotelli press conference?” he asked. “Listen, he's like every other player. He wants to score goals, and at the moment, he's not.”
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Liverpool received yet more bad news that striker Daniel Sturridge, who has missed most of the season so far with a thigh problem, will now be out for at least another month after suffering a calf strain during practice. Sturridge, 25, was Liverpool’s second-leading scorer in the Premier League last season with 21 goals.