Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Liverpool rule out Mario Balotelli swoop but Rodgers has eye on more fresh faces

Not an option: Brendan Rodgers is an admirer of Mario Balotelli but says he won’t make a move for the Italian

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers insists he will not be signing Mario Balotelli this summer.

Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man.

The Liverpool boss has already signed Lille striker Divock Origi and England's Rickie Lambert to help plug the gap left by Luis Suarez's departure, but he could still make a move for another striker.

Rodgers is adamant Balotelli will not be coming to Anfield, though.

"I can categorically tell you Mario Balotelli will not be at Liverpool," Rodgers said ahead of last night's match against Manchester United in Miami.

"In my last press conference I was asked a question about Mario Balotelli and I talked about what a talent he was and what an excellent player he was.

"And the next day it was wrote as if we were signing him.

"I just gave my perception of him as a player. It shouldn't be transmitted in to us signing the player."

Rodgers has used the £75million he received for Suarez to fund the signings of Lambert, Origi, Emre Can, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Lazar Markovic.

The Carnlough man continues to be linked to more players though, the latest two being Sevilla star Alberto Moreno and Atletico Madrid defender Javier Manquillo.

Rodgers would not name any of his targets, but he admitted he is still in the market for new additions.

"We still have a few bits and pieces we would like to do to solidify the group, but there's no names or definite signings yet."

The early signs of the post-Suarez era have been promising for Rodgers.

Liverpool beat Olympiacos, Manchester City and AC Milan to reach the final of the International Champions Cup, which was being played at the Sun Life Stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.

Their opponents last night also won every match on tour, including a creditable 3-1 win over Real Madrid on Saturday.

Liverpool last season finished some 20 points above United, who were woeful under David Moyes.

But Rodgers is expecting a much tougher fight from Liverpool's arch-rivals this year thanks to Louis van Gaal's appointment as manager.

"It was unfortunate it didn't work out for them last year, but I would suspect, and they will expect, to put up a greater challenge this year," said Rodgers, clearly a fan of Van Gaal.

"Louis is someone I have watched for many years, he is a very experienced manager," he added. "It was unfortunate what happened with David.

"But I am sure Louis van Gaal will look forward to the challenge of working in the Premier League because it will be different to any other league he's worked in."

Rodgers' England defender Glenn Johnson is looking forward to getting back in league action but has admitted Liverpool are not worried about the effect losing Suarez will have on their charge for domestic and European honours ahead of the forthcoming season.

The Uruguayan's 31 goals almost propelled the Anfield club to their first domestic title since 1990 but for a late season collapse which saw Manchester City crowned champions.

Yet with manager Rodgers working feverishly in the transfer market since the departure of Suarez, Johnson is confident of Liverpool competing strongly on all fronts.

"Any team that loses a player like Luis is going to feel it. But we will carry on the way we do, creating chances. I think we were the team who created the most chances last season, we've signed some good strikers and I'm sure once they get a chance they will take it," he said.

"It gets overlooked that we played the first six games of last season without Luis and made a fantastic start so we can clearly win without him."

With rivals Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City all strengthening their squads this summer, the Premier League title race promises to be as intriguing as ever.

"I think they (United) will provide a stronger challenge this season.

"Obviously they didn't have a great year last year when not much went there way. But I'm pretty sure Van Gaal will settle the ship, get what he wants out of his players and I'm sure they will be a lot tougher to best this year," said Johnson.

"It will probably be the usual five then a surprise packet. Last three years or so we've had five or six clubs fighting for fourth place."

Liverpool's start, which includes early matches against Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton, will ensure Rodgers' side will be tested from the off while a return to the Champions League will further test the Anfield squad.

"If you want to win the League the start of every season is important whoever you play, added Johnson."

"We were definitely fresher for not playing in Europe last season. And with the size of the squad we had last season we probably could not have coped with all the extra games. It was probably an advantage last year.

"We're going to have a lot more games this season but hopefully we can keep everyone fit and keep fighting."

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