Talented yet temperamental.
Masterful and mercurial.
Incredible but infuriating.
Equal parts sublime and short-fused.
Never one to turn down a calculated gamble, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers appears set to replace one controversial superstar striker with another as the potential of Mario Balotelli signing with the Reds looms over this high-profile clash against reigning Premier League titleholders Manchester City on Monday night at The Etihad.
Though Liverpool opened their season of high hopes and equally high expectations with a 2-1 victory over Southampton on a goal in the 79th minute by Daniel Sturridge, the gaping hole left by the departure of his strike partner - the equally polarising Luis Suarez - continues to be the pundits' fulcrum over whether the Reds can finally claim their long-sought first Premier League title as well as any success in Europe with their return to Champions League play.
Enter "Super Mario," who has been breathlessly followed after his arrival from Italy on Friday to meet with Rodgers and finalise a reported £16 million transfer from AC Milan that also includes him taking a substantial pay cut to join Liverpool. The 24-year-old Italian is no stranger to England - he helped City end their title drought in 2012 with 14 goals in 23 league matches - and controversy with training ground bust-ups with Manuel Pellegrini's predecessor Roberto Mancini while donning their colours.
Both sides of Balotelli were again on display this summer at the World Cup - he scored the match-winner versus England but also had a performance so listless in the Azzurri's group crunch match against Uruguay that manager Cesare Prandelli lifted him at halftime.
Rodgers, who previously stated Liverpool had no interest in Balotelli during their pre-season tour of the United States, did not address the status of the deal in his pre-match news conference Friday and tried to downplay the stakes of this match as the spotlight clearly is shining brightly on his Merseyside team.
"We had a couple of great games against Manchester City last season and, of course, they are the champions," Rodgers said. "But I don't think it will define everything. It's over the course of the 38 games. That's something I will always look at."
City, meanwhile, began the business of seeking a third title in four years with a convincing 2-0 victory at Newcastle United. David Silva scored in the 38th minute before substitute Sergio Aguero secured the victory with a goal in second-half injury time.
Vincent Kompany marshaled an airtight defence that did not concede a shot on goal, and Pellegrini appears to relish this opportunity to lay down a marker against a title contender.
"I always say to the players these games are games of six points - especially when you play at home against one of the most important squads in the Premier League in Liverpool," he told Manchester City's official website. "It is difficult to say after one game but Liverpool will always miss Suarez because he is a very important player, though they have brought in a lot of important players."
Aguero likely will again be on the substitutes' list as he works towards match fitness, and Pellegrini did not say if veteran midfielder Frank Lampard would make his highly anticipated debut.
City won last season's corresponding fixture 2-1, overcoming an early goal by Philippe Coutinho with first-half strikes from Kompany and Alvaro Negredo.
- Sports & Recreation
- Manchester City
- Premier League
- Mario Balotelli
- Manuel Pellegrini