herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Balotelli gets time to shine in absence of Sturridge

BRENDAN Rodgers will be able to gauge the true merits of Mario Balotelli at Anfield this evening as he copes without Daniel Sturridge for the next six matches.

The Italian makes his home debut this evening against Aston Villa after a promising hour last time out against Tottenham, but Rodgers has to decide whom replaces the injured Sturridge.

Rickie Lambert, bought from Southampton for £4million at the end of last season, has made two brief substitute appearances and Rodgers' vision was for him to be able to make an impact off the bench. However, it may come down to a choice between him and a tweaking of the system to accommodate another new signing Lazar Markovic.

"Rickie has been very good since he came in," said Rodgers.

"He has mostly had an impact from the bench and you see even with England the other night when he came on he showed good ability to play a great weighted pass for Danny Welbeck to score.

"He is working very well and if he doesn't get a start he will certainly start against Middlesbrough in the (Capital One) cup so his game time will come - but at the moment he is playing a great supporting role from the bench."

One player who is still some way off settling for a supporting role is captain Steven Gerrard, who thanks to his international retirement has been able to enjoy a rest during the recent break.

"After 14 years it was his first international break and it was great for him," said Rodgers.

"I gave him an extra few days off to recover knowing we have a real busy schedule coming up over these next couple of months but he looks after himself ever so well, a great professional."

Rodgers has had his difficulties at Anfield against Saturday's opponents, taking just a point from his two previous encounters, so he is well aware of what awaits.

"We deservedly lost in my first season and then we started slowly last season and showed real character to draw the game (having trailed 2-0).

"They have started well and I am pleased for Paul (Lambert) because a few years ago when he went in there he looked towards building a young group of players and the first season was difficult.

"But they have developed and grown and got better and this season will see them and their young players - and the faith they put in them - bear fruit."

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