Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

It's not all about Mario Balotelli

...and good luck to Brendan Rodgers in his bid to get that message across

Smiles better: Mario Balotelli larks around in training yesterday

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has stressed the club have not and will not become "the Mario Balotelli show".

Balotelli is in contention to make his debut for the Reds in tomorrow's Barclays Premier League game at Tottenham following his move from AC Milan earlier this week.

There has been plenty of excitement – not least among Liverpool fans – at the return to English football of the maverick Italy striker, who had such a colourful spell with Manchester City.

Rodgers has been impressed by the impact Balotelli has made so far in training with the Merseyside outfit, but is keen to emphasise that no individual will be allowed to overshadow the rest of his players.

Speaking at his pre-match press conference yesterday, the Ulsterman said: "This is not the Mario Balotelli show.

"He is a good player, a talented player. But he has got a lot of work to do here.

"We have a number of top-class players and the star of this team will always be the team."

He added: "Mario has settled in very well and has looked fantastic in training.

"He is a good lad. The focus is very much on his football and he has done very well."

Asked about how much responsibility the 24-year-old has in terms of compensating for the loss of Liverpool's top scorer last season, Luis Suarez, Rodgers replied: "No more than the rest of the team. He is a member of the team.

"He is top-quality – there is no doubt about that. He is a class act, the boy, with wonderful football qualities.

"We are looking to bring him in and he can play with (fellow striker) Daniel Sturridge, he can play up there on his own or play off the side.

"He is moving to Merseyside. He is engrossing himself into the club and the people, but more importantly into his football.

"I look forward to seeing that development over the coming years."

Another major summer signing could make their Liverpool bow tomorrow, with midfielder Adam Lallana now available after recovering from a knee injury.

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino understands the hullabaloo surrounding Mario Balotelli's return to the Premier League, but is giving the Italian little thought ahead of tomorrow..

"I haven't an opinion about that," Pochettino said. "The only thing is that he is a very good player, a star.

"For England, for our football, it is important that star players come here.

"Mario Balotelli is an unbelievable player and that he has very good skill.

"And, okay, it is important for football and for Liverpool, not for us."

For Pochettino, his sole focus is on maintaining his 100% start to life at the helm – a run that increased to four matches with Thursday's 3-0 defeat of AEL Limassol in the Europa League play-offs.

But Liverpool will undoubtedly be Spurs' toughest opponents of the season to date and offers a timely opportunity to gain vengeance.

Last season the Reds thrashed Tottenham 4-0 at Anfield having earlier in the campaign cruised to a 5-0 victory at White Hart Lane – a match which led to Andre Villas-Boas' sacking.

"The past is the past," Pochettino said of those losses. "I don't want to remember the past.

"It is a new season, I think a different style, different philosophy.

"Liverpool invested a lot of money this summer and we went another way.

"We believe in our squad and add some players for the balance.

"Two different ways [of approaching things]."

It is a case of so far so good for Spurs as they embrace the approach which served Pochettino so well during his rather productive time at Southampton.

"It is an easy method," the former Argentina international said. "It is not a difficult method.

"Our philosophy is play football along the grass, make good combinations, work hard and, at the moment, they are happy."

That mentality may be easy to grasp but Pochettino suggested there may not be enough time for Federico Fazio to adapt to it before the Liverpool match.

The Argentinian defender arrived from Sevilla on Wednesday as replacement for Michael Dawson and was paraded on the pitch ahead of the AEL match.

"Wednesday was the first training session in the afternoon [with Tottenham] and yesterday with the players not in the squad he trained in the morning," Pochettino said.

"We will see. It is important that he adapts to the squad and the new philosophy because he played in Sevilla.

"Today it is too early to say if it is possible whether he will be involved in the squad for Sunday."

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