In Depth

Balotelli v Welbeck: Liverpool regret as Arsenal hit jackpot

The two £16m men had contrasting nights in the Champions League and the Reds now have a problem

Liverpool's limp Champions League defeat to Basel has left the Reds with an uphill battle to qualify for the knockout stages of the competition. And after a team performance that captain Steven Gerrard condemned as "too soft" there have been plenty of unflattering comparisons between Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli and his hat-trick scoring Arsenal counterpart Danny Welbeck.

Both strikers arrived at their current clubs for £16m in the summer transfer window, but while Welbeck was filling his boots for Arsenal last night, Balotelli cut a forlorn figure up front for Liverpool in Switzerland. He failed to even register a touch in the Basel penalty box during the match.

He was criticised by former Liverpool manager Graham Souness, who told Sky Sports that the Italian had put in a "miserable" performance, while the Daily Mail hints at discord by claiming that the combustible frontman "snubbed" his manager by ignoring orders to applaud the travelling fans at the end of the match.

"This is the second time Balotelli... has ignored Rodgers order to clap the travelling fans," sniffs the paper.

It could be a case of reality bites for Liverpool fans who are now realising that Balotelli is "not the Messiah... just Mario", says Laurie Whitwell for the Mail. "With Wednesday night's Champions League action as Exhibit A, the evidence suggests it is Arsene Wenger with the bargain on his hands, while Brendan Rodgers perhaps has only trouble, greater even than he anticipated."

And after Balotelli's showing last night "Liverpool may well be kicking themselves this morning that they did not make a move for England international Danny Welbeck in the summer transfer market", says the Daily Telegraph.

The two strikers were born months apart, are of Ghanaian heritage and have previously plied their trade in Manchester. But "that is where comparisons end these days for Mario Balotelli and Danny Welbeck," says Goal.com.

Welbeck arrived at Arsenal with a reputation as a level-headed hard worker, with question marks over his finishing and skill. The exact opposite was true of Balotelli when he walked into Anfield.

But "Arsene Wenger has picked up an established international performer with Champions League and Premier League experience and could make another goalscoring supremo like Thierry Henry out of him", says Goal.com. "Brendan Rodgers meanwhile is left with a player who has not integrated into the Liverpool team and whose presence has served only to underline the importance of Daniel Sturridge to the Reds."

Not everyone agrees, however. The Times says that Balotelli's travails emphasise how much Liverpool miss Luis Suarez rather than Sturridge. The Uruguayan offered Liverpool "unbridled zest" but Balotelli is "the opposite type of player... he is not a hard-working live wire".

The conclusion, according to Metro, is that "Wenger has pulled off a master stroke by choosing Welbeck over Balotelli".

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