Brendan Rodgers Backs Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli: Leading front man for Liverpool now

£16 million Liverpool signing, who moved to the Reds last month, is now the main striker due to the absence of front partner Daniel Sturridge, who is expected to be out for at least another fortnight due to a thigh strain.

And as Liverpool return to play in the UEFA Champions’ League, the 24-year-old finds himself the side’s third most experienced play in Europe’s elite club competition.

With their next game in the competition being against Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets, Balotelli looks to get his Liverpool career up, and manager Brendan Rodgers believes Balotelli will embrace the responsibility.

“Time will tell. The boy is only just in the door,” he said.

“The best players enjoy that responsibility and I am sure it is one he is relishing but on the training field he is going to work hard to accept that responsibility knowing he has been brought in here to do a job which is to create and score goals and work hard.”

“He was unfortunate he was ill last week and it was only on the morning of the game (Saturday’s defeat to Aston Villa) he declared himself fit to play, which shows he really wanted to get out and play here.”

“He is also experienced as well. He is arguably one of the most experienced players we have in terms of this competition and international calibre and at club level.”

The Italian international was on the receiving end of some rough stuff from Philippe Senderos and Alan Hutton when the Anfield side lost to Aston Villa 1-0 during the weekend, but Rodgers does not envisage a similar problem in Europe.

“We expect the referee to protect all our players, not just Mario,” added the Reds boss.

“It is a man’s game. It is a competitive game but if it oversteps the mark when he’s not involved in the build-up then we would expect the referee and officials to look at it.”

“But there are no complaints for me. Football is competitive and strong and we ask the players to be that in our team but be fair in the way we work.”

The manager also knows his side has to overcome the lack of experience in the Champions’ League, their last match being played in December 2009.

“Absolutely it is a learning curve but it is one which excites us as well,” he said.

“Steven has a great record in this competition, he is the highest goalscorer in the club’s history with 28 goals and we have other players who have experience.”

“We have a very young squad and they will gain experience – it is about embracing it. There is certainly no fear of the competition.”

Rodgers’ primary aim is to secure Champions’ League football next season, but is not setting his sights to high in this term’s competition.

“My main priority was to get the club back to this level because as a club it needs to be at this level for itself and football in general,” he said.

“It is one of the footballing greats of the world and this is the elite competition in club football so if feels brilliant to be back.”

“I think success is about qualifying from the group. We will take one game at a time: we are at home in our first game and we aim to perform well and get three points but we will respect them like we would if we were playing Real Madrid.”

Ludogorets had to sign Canadian free agent Milan Borjan on Sunday with a goalkeeping problem at the club, as Vladislav Stoyanov is suspended and deputy Ivan Cvorovic is out on a long-term injury.

Despite not being included in UEFA’s sqaud list, coach Georgi Dermendjiev has said that he would play tomorrow against the Reds as his signing has been ratified by the governing body.

“It was a situation no-one was able to predict and the player has already arrived. He will be able to play. He has signed a contract,” he said.

“Nothing was needed because he was a free agent. Everything is confirmed by UEFA, by the book, and he will play tomorrow.”

“We cannot allow some technical mistake at this stage. Ludogorets is a very organised and professional club so there cannot be something like this missed.”

Dermendjiev has also said that they would not be over-awed by their more illustrious opponents, despite being rank outsiders.

“There is a saying in football that team plays as much as the opposition allows them,” he added.

“Of course, if we need to play defensively we will but we will also use every chance to attack – we have our own attacking style and we plan to use it whenever we can tomorrow.”

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