Balotelli draws another blank in Hull stalemate



Mario Balotelli’s struggles in front of goal continued as Liverpool were held to a goalless draw by Hull City in the Premier League at Anfield on Saturday.

The Italy striker has scored just once in 11 appearances since his £16 million ($26 million, 20 million euros) pre-season move from AC Milan and endured another frustrating day against the Tigers.

In truth, Balotelli was far from the worst performer at Anfield, but without the injured Daniel Sturridge the goalscoring burden has fallen on the shoulders of the former Manchester City star and once again he failed to find the net.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers included Balotelli in his starting line-up despite substituting the forward at half-time in the midweek 3-0 Champions League loss at home to Real Madrid.

Balotelli controversially swapped shirts with Real defender Pepe as the players went down the tunnel at the break and Rodgers subsequently reminded the 24-year-old such behaviour ran contrary to Liverpool’s “culture”.

Rodgers made three changes to the team beaten by Real as Javier Manquillo, Emre Can and Adam Lallana came in for Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Glen Johnson, who all dropped to the bench.

With injuries to goalkeepers Allan McGregor and Steve Harper, Hull manager Steve Bruce gave a first Premier League start to third-choice Eldin Jakupovic while Alex Bruce and Robbie Brady started in place of Michael Dawson and Andrew Robertson.

Liverpool created the game’s first chance in the 10th minute when Steven Gerrard’s corner picked out Dejan Lovren, but he saw a powerful header cleared off the line by Ahmed Elmohamady.

– Energetic Balotelli –

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Two minutes later Balotelli, who started the game with purpose and energy, brought a diving save out of Jakupovic with a shot from a tight angle inside the penalty area.

Balotelli almost seized on an errant backpass and Joe Allen fired a speculative effort past the post, however that was as good as it got for Liverpool for the rest of the half.

Hull could have gone into the interval a goal head when Elmohamady burst into the box and cut the ball back for Jake Livermore, who shot straight at Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard attempted to galvanise his team-mates after the break and twice fired low efforts from distance just past the post.

However, with little sign of improvement, Rodgers brought on Rickie Lambert and Coutinho for Allen and Lallana on the hour mark.

Hull were forced to scramble the ball away from a corner shortly after when Can’s near-post flick from Coutinho’s delivery was cleared off the line as Balotelli desperately tried to get the decisive touch.

Liverpool’s intensity increased but Hull refused to wilt under the pressure and, despite the hosts’ monopoly on possession, Jakupovic was rarely tested.

At the other end, Mignolet had to be alert with 10 minutes left when Tigers substitute Sone Aluko stung his palms with an ambitious effort from 25 yards.

The Reds had a late appeal for a penalty when Balotelli went down under pressure from Bruce only for referee Nigel Swarbrick to wave away the appeals.

Raheem Sterling almost caught out Jakupovic with a curling effort which struck the post in injury time, while Balotelli was denied from close range at the death by a brilliant point-blank save from the Hull keeper after the Italian got on the end of Coutinho’s cross.

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