Balotelli all set to make emotional return to Etihad
Mario Balotelli is planning to make an emotional return to Manchester City as a Liverpool player tonight, but only as a spectator.
The striker will sign his three-year Liverpool deal in the next 24 hours, although the British bank holiday means the Premier League cannot register him until tomorrow.
Only the processing of paperwork is now stopping him completing his £16million transfer after he passed a medical and convinced manager Brendan Rodgers that he has the hunger to succeed at Anfield.
Balotelli, who returned to Italy on Saturday evening, will head back to the club's training ground today to complete formalities. He is scheduled to head to Manchester where Rodgers intends to introduce the Italian, 24, to his team-mates ahead of their match against the Premier League champions.
There should be a warm reception for Balotelli from both sets of fans. For all his eccentricities and his reputation as a troublemaker, the Italian is remembered fondly for his role in helping City to win a league title and FA Cup during his last spell in the English north-west.
He left City for AC Milan 18 months ago for £19m.
Liverpool supporters have displayed their enthusiasm for his surprise recruitment, Balotelli greeted by an ecstatic crowd when he arrived at the club's base on Friday evening.
Rodgers's fresh title challenge now hinges on the goalscoring form of two former Manchester City players, Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge. Rodgers has reassured Sturridge that Balotelli's arrival will complement his game rather than threaten his place. Sturridge has made the most prolific start of any Liverpool striker since the 1890s so Rodgers has no concerns about how he will respond to the arrival of another goalscorer.
"I have spoken to Daniel and just said about how important he is to the team," Rodgers said. "The confidence I have in him has been shown in his performances and goals - 36 in 50 - you are not doing that if you are not happy; happy with your life; happy with your football. Daniel is a top talent, but we need to have more than one top talent in here. But he is a big player for us and will remain to be."
Liverpool are planning to offer new deals in the next few weeks to Steven Gerrard, Philippe Coutinho and Jordan Henderson, and Sturridge will also be rewarded with better terms.
Rodgers said that he had been targeting strikers to work with Sturridge in the same way he formed a lethal partnership with Luis Suarez.
"The dynamic is important but I don't worry because if you are a top player with a top mind then you want other top players," Rodgers said.
"You are not worried about what someone else can come in and do then. You will be thinking, 'He can help us'. You respond to the competition but we can also play a diamond as well [with two strikers]. We played that eight times last year and won seven and we flipped to play that last weekend.
"We can change systems and I need that flexibility. Also, if you look at Daniel's injury record, he has missed a number of weeks. I need to ensure I have replacements."
Liverpool's trip to Manchester will offer an early indication if the clubs will be title rivals again this season. Their last meeting at Anfield ended in a 2-1 win for the Merseyside club, a victory that suggested all the title momentum was with them. Instead, City's flawless finish ensured they were crowned champions.
Pellegrini has suggested that the pressure got to Liverpool in the final straight, a claim Rodgers refuted. He said it was bad luck that cost his club.
"People talked about the run-in and the pressure and all of that, but in the last 14 games we won 12, drew one and lost one and the loss was so unfortunate. In the game we lost I didn't have depth to change the game. I did not have the squad to reverse the personnel. It wasn't anything to do with experience. We missed out on a little bit of luck towards the end.
"There is no doubt we are stronger now but you have to show that on the field. The competition in the squad is much greater and hopefully that will drive us on. We have had good games against them and the last game in April was fantastic. They showed their qualities and we could have been out of sight at half-time. But we have gone there and played really well the last couple of years but we want to come back with a better result." (© Daily Telegraph, London)