Daniel Sturridge’s continued injury problems when coming back from England duty threaten to derail Liverpool’s 8/13 bid for successive top-four Premier League finishes, but boss Brendan Rodgers’ last summer signing’s season looks unlikely to suffer similar setbacks.
Mario Balotelli was left out of new Italy coach Antonio Conte’s first squad for the friendly at home to Netherlands and the away Euro 2016 opener in Norway, with the Azzurri winning both matches 2-0.
Admittedly, the former Manchester City and AC Milan man was suspended for the Oslo clash, although the fact that Conte picked Claudio Marchisio, who also served a one-match ban, points to a deliberate snub.
Balotelli cannot have enjoyed watching new Borussia Dortmund frontman Ciro Immobile and Sassuolo’s Simone Zaza – who were both on Juventus’ books when Conte managed the Old Lady – grab openers in the two fixtures, seemingly cementing their places in the 45-year-old’s plans.
His Reds gaffer Rodgers won’t be complaining though, with ‘Balo’ likely to be as fresh as any striker in the Premier League when domestic football resumes at the weekend.
Liverpool are 2/7 to beat Aston Villa at home without Sturridge, who also missed a seven-week chunk of last term shortly after returning from a 1-0 Three Lions’ Wembley loss against Germany.
Cometh the hour, cometh Balotelli, the 3/1 joint-favourite to bag the Anfield opener who Rodgers will be expecting a reaction from after the Azzurri snub.
Lest we forget, the Palermo native started Italy’s first two matches of World Cup 2014 up front on his own, and only had to share striking duties with Immobile during the controversial loss to Uruguay, which sent Cesare Prandelli’s side home and the coach into semi-retirement at Galatasaray.
A run of striking form for last year’s top-flight runners-up would force Conte to bring back Balotelli, and at that point Rodgers will surely be only too happy to see the £16m man take the call.