Mario Balotelli lifted a massive weight off his shoulders by inspiring Liverpool to a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the Capital One Cup against Swansea on Tuesday to end an eight-game drought, during which the wisdom of his summer transfer from Milan has come under increasing scrutiny. Balotelli’s equalizer, just minutes before Dejan Lovren’s winner deep into injury time, came just a day after the Italy striker was rumored to already be on his way out of Anfield. The Daily Mirror reported that former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez was preparing a £10 million offer to bring Balotelli to Napoli in the January transfer window. That would represent a £6 million loss for Liverpool in just five months and be a strong admission that they erred in signing the former Manchester City man.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has done little to ease the scrutiny on his striker or the feeling that his Anfield career might be short-lived. Only last week, Rodgers cast doubt on Balotelli’s future after removing him at halftime during a 3-0 defeat to Real Madrid.
“We brought in the player to give him a chance and we will continue to do that,” Rodgers said, reports The Guardian. “He is working hard to try to fit into the team ethos here but only time will tell. We will see come January what the team needs.”
One goal on Tuesday certainly doesn’t mean that all is rosy, although the benefits of having Balotelli supported by an energetic striker in Fabio Borini rather than being left isolated up front were clear. And when Daniel Sturridge finally returns from injury, the landscape and Balotelli’s impact could change dramatically.
That hasn’t stopped speculation suggesting what strikers Liverpool will try to sign in January should Balotelli be deemed an irretrievable failure. The name of Gonzalo Higuaín has featured prominently in recent rumors surrounding Liverpool, following the Argentina striker’s poor start to the season with Napoli. The former Real Madrid man appeared to be disenchanted following Napoli’s failure to make it through to the group phase of the Champions League. However, after he dramatically returned to form with a hat-trick on Sunday, Higuaín’s brother and agent, Nicolas, insisted that the 26-year-old would be staying in Naples and that there had been no contact with either Liverpool or fellow reported suitors Arsenal.
“The rumors about Arsenal and Liverpool? Gonzalo has a contract with Napoli for five seasons so he’s an Azzurro player,” Nicolas Higuaín said, reports Football-Italia.net. “But I must say that no representatives from either club have contacted me. Shortly before he arrived in Naples, I was in contact with Arsenal.”
Rather than Higuaín, the Daily Mail believes Liverpool are looking closer to home and are weighing up a move for in-form West Brom forward Saido Berahino. The England Under-21 international has scored seven goals in nine Premier League appearances this season after a breakthrough campaign that rather petered out last term. Liverpool are unlikely to be the only club keeping a close eye on Berahino’s progress and, indeed, Tottenham have been linked with a £15 million bid. Yet, according to the Mail, West Brom value their leading light at more than £25 million; a price that neither Liverpool nor Tottenham are likely to be prepared to pay.
Liverpool are likely to face similar resistance should they move for another striker put forward as a target by the Mail, Wilfried Bony. Despite much speculation that a fine debut season in the Premier League for the Ivory Coast international would lead to a transfer away from Swansea in the summer, he remained in South Wales to little fuss. His four goals in his last three Premier League appearances could well get big clubs circling come January, but Swansea will surely set a prohibitive price for a player key to their hopes.