| 9.9°C Dublin

Brendan Rodgers enjoying time with 'good guy' Mario Balotelli

Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers says he is enjoying working with Mario Balotelli.

The Reds recruited maverick Italy striker Balotelli from AC Milan last month and the former Manchester City player opened his scoring account for his new club in their 2-1 Champions League victory over Ludogorets on Tuesday. Then on Sunday he was the victim of racial abuse on Twitter after he reacted to Manchester United's shock defeat to Leicester by tweeting: "Man Utd...LOL".

Merseyside Police have since confirmed they are looking into the matter, and Liverpool yesterday emphasised that, with that being the case, neither they nor Rodgers would be making any comment on it at his press conference to preview tonight's Capital One Cup home clash with Middlesbrough.

But the manager did say about Balotelli: "Every player is different and individual, and I have really enjoyed working with him so far. He is a good guy, he wants to do well for the club and he has shown me that he cares enough about the club (for me) to devote that time to him.

"For me, he is not complicated - he is a football player who wants to do well in his life and his career, and if he continues to give everything and work tirelessly for the cause, then there will always be an opportunity here for him."

While Balotelli was among a host of players brought in by Liverpool over the summer, the club lost the services of their 2013-14 top scorer Luis Suarez.

And the Reds have made a disappointing start to this season, with Saturday's 3-1 loss at West Ham the third defeat from their opening five Premier League games.

Rodgers feels the "transition" going on within the camp is one of several things to have contributed to that, but he is confident things will turn if his players keep working hard.

"There is a natural transition in the group, and where there is that transition, there are little bumps along the way," said Rodgers, whose side were not in Europe last term.

"Mario is one of a number of players we brought in and for them all, no matter how good their quality, it is going to take a wee bit of time to gel with the players that were already here."


Rodgers insists he has no problem with a busier schedule as it comes with success, and added: "We can be much better. We're still looking to find our performance level. But it's something I have no doubt (about)."

Specifically on the clash with Championship outfit Middlesbrough, Rodgers said: "We need to concentrate on the game. It's important for us and we want to get through. We want to win a trophy this season."

Striker Rickie Lambert is set to make his first competitive start while Jordan Henderson (hip) will be assessed and fellow midfielder Philippe Coutinho is highly unlikely to feature due to a groin problem.

Elsewhere, Arsene Wenger yesterday revealed that right back Mathieu Debuchy will be out for around three months with an ankle injury. Debuchy, who signed from Newcastle for £12m in the summer, was taken off against Manchester City on September 13.

It had been hoped the injury would not prove as severe as first feared, but the France full-back now faces an extended spell on the sidelines. Wenger said: "He had surgery on ­Friday and will be out for three months. A reasonable delay is three months. All went well, but it can be a week or two earlier or a week or two later, but it will be around three months.

"It is a blow, of course. How big it will be we will only know afterwards because it will be down to how well we replace him. We bought [Calum] Chambers for that."

Chambers is, along with Hector Bellerin, expected to feature in tonight's Capital One Cup tie against Southampton at the Emirates.

The cup tie could see a debut for Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina, who has yet to feature apart from on the bench after regaining fitness following a summer move from Nice.

Costa Rica forward Joel Campbell - not even on the bench for the previous two Premier League games - may get a rare start against the Saints, along with fit-again midfielder Abou Diaby.

Liverpool v Middlesbrough, live, Sky Sports 1, 7.45

Irish Independent