LIVERPOOL, January 25 – Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers insisted Mario Balotelli must do more in training as he prepared to welcome back fellow forward Daniel Sturridge to first-team action.
Balotelli failed to make Liverpool’s matchday 18 as the Premier League side were held to a goalless draw by second-tier Bolton Wanderers in a fourth-round FA Cup tie at Anfield on Saturday, even though the Italy striker was fit.
Since making a £16 million ($24 million, 21 million euros) from AC Milan in August, Balotelli has managed just two goals in 18 appearances in all competitions for the Reds.
Rodgers has also switched Liverpool’s system to a more dynamic 3-4-2-1 formation based on pressing, which has seen Raheem Sterling utilised in a more central role.
The Northern Irish manager revealed he had an hour-long discussion with Balotelli at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground to spell out exactly what the misfiring forward must do to force his way back into contention.
“Mario’s not injured, just not selected,” said Rodgers.
“I think it’s tough for him because the team is doing very well. He’s probably seen the real Liverpool over these last six or seven weeks and he understands what’s required know to get into the team.
“Of course I am judging it every day in training as well,” Rodgers added.
“Mario is exactly the same as every other player. There’s no special treatment.
“Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini have worked tirelessly in training and when they’ve come on they’ve contributed.
“I had a good chat with Mario and he knows exactly what’s required to be in the squad before he can be in the team.”
Rodgers recently ruled out selling Balotelli during the January transfer window and was confident his decision to axe him from the side against Bolton would produce a positive reaction from the 24-year-old.
“He was fully understanding and I’m confident he will respond now,” added Rodgers.
– ‘Final rehab’ –
Liverpool could have Sturridge back for the second leg of their League Cup semi-final with Chelsea on Tuesday after Rodgers confirmed the striker was on the verge of resuming full training.
Sturridge has not played since August, having struggled with thigh and calf injuries which saw him sent to the United States for rehabilitation.
But now, with the tie level at 1-1, he could return at Stamford Bridge against a Chelsea side desperate to make amends for their shock 4-2 FA Cup home loss to third-tier Bradford City.
“Daniel starts training tomorrow (Sunday) with the team. He’s had the final rehab with the medical and sports science guys today (Saturday) and will join with the group,” Rodgers said.
“Now it’s just about getting that condition and football fitness and game fitness. We’ll see how he is for Tuesday, if he isn’t ready for Tuesday, he’ll be back against West Ham next weekend.”
Meanwhile Bolton manager Neil Lennon said he would do everything he could to tie down Adam Bogdan to a new contract after the Hungary goalkeeper, whose current deal expires in June, kept the Trotters in the FA Cup with several fine saves at Anfield.
“He’s a good size, he fills the goal and will have done his reputation no harm at all,” Lennon said of Bogdan.
“He’s out of contract in the summer and we will sit down with his agent. I can ill-afford to let players of his quality go.”
Lennon added the character and determination shown by his side meant they richly deserved a replay.
“My heart was in my mouth in the last five minutes when we were running in fumes,” he said.
“People will look at the score and say Liverpool didn’t play well but they did play well,” Lennon insisted.
“To come away from here with a replay is more than we could have asked for.
“We showed mental strength and bravery against one of the best attacking teams in the country.”