Ancelotti defends Balotelli
MADRID — Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti believes the criticism of underfire Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli following their poor start to the season has been over the top.
Balotelli is yet to score a Premier League goal for the Reds since making a £16 million (M278.5 million) move from AC Milan in August and was widely lambasted for swapping shirts with Madrid defender Pepe with his side trailing 3-0 at halftime two weeks ago before being substituted at the break.
However, Ancelotti insisted Liverpool’s problems were not solely down to his Italian compatriot and that he had no problems with his players swapping shirts at halftime.
“There is a lot of talk about Balotelli, maybe too much,” said Ancelotti.
“He has quality, but he has come to a team going through a difficult time after losing some important players like (Luis) Suarez. The manager needs to find another solution, but it is the same with all the new players. I don’t think all of Liverpool’s problems are down to Balotelli.
“The exchanging of shirts at halftime is very common. If one of my players did it tomorrow I wouldn’t take them off.”
Liverpool’s defeat to Newcastle United on Saturday was already their sixth of the season, leaving them seventh in the Premier League and in a fight with Basle and Ludogorets Razgrad for second place in Champions League Group B.
By contrast, Madrid have racked up 46 goals in an 11-game winning streak that has taken them to the top of La Liga and just one win away from sealing their place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Even the absence of Gareth Bale hasn’t slowed the European champions’ free-scoring form and the Welshman is expected to make his return from a pelvic muscle injury on Tuesday.
“Bale is fine and will be available,” added Ancelotti.
“The doubt is whether to start a player coming back after an injury or to give a rest to some players that have played a lot of matches recently. I will decide that tomorrow.”
As well as sealing Madrid’s place in the knockout stages, there is also the opportunity for Cristiano Ronaldo to break another significant record at the Santiago Bernabeu as he is just one goal away from equalling Raul’s record haul of 71 Champions League goals.
However, Ancelotti insisted that wasn’t at the forefront of the Portuguese’s mind as he knows he will surpass the mark set by Madrid’s all-time leading goalscorer at some point this season.
“He isn’t thinking about Raul’s record. He could beat it tomorrow, but it is not his last Champions League game.
“He is thinking about the team. I always have to speak about Cristiano, but, as I have said before, it is difficult to find new words. “He is a fantastic player and professional.” Meanwhile, Balotelli has been recalled to Italy’s squad for next week’s Euro 2016 quali- fier against Croatia in Milan alongside Alessio Cerci of Atletico Madrid.
Balotelli had been left out of the Italy setup by new coach Antonio Conte following their first round exit from the World Cup under former coach Cesare Prandelli.
Cerci failed to make the trip to Brazil but is included in a 26-man squad named on Sunday night by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC).
Torino defender Emiliano Moretti and midfield pair Andrea Bertolacci (Genoa) and Roberto Soriano (Sampdoria) are among the squad debutants as Conte looks to freshen his squad ahead of the 2016 European Championships.
Italy sit second on Group H, but only on goal difference, behind Croatia after winning their three opening games.
Italy squad for Croatia in Milan on November 16:
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Mattia Perin (Genoa), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint Germain)
Defenders: Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Emiliano Moretti (Torino), Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter), Daniele Rugani (Empoli)
Midfield: Andrea Bertolacci (Genoa), Giacomo Bonaventura (Milan), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Alessio Cerci (Atletico Madrid/esp), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Stephan El Shaarawy (Milan), Claudio Marchisio (Juventus), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Manuel Pasqual (Fiorentina), Roberto Soriano (Sampdoria), Marco Verratti (Paris Saint Germain)
Strikers: Mario Balotelli (Liverpool), Sebastian Giovinco (Juventus), Ciro Immobile (Borussia Dortmund), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Simone Zaza (Sassuolo). —
Mario Balotelli (centre) runs with his teammates during a training session with the team at the Coverciano Training Center, near Florence, italy on Monday.