Ancelotti de­fends Balotelli

Lesotho Times - - Sport - AFP

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.

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