Will Balotelli inspire the return of the diamond?

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    Whilst Brendan Rodgers may insist Liverpool has not become the ‘Mario Balotelli show’, there is no doubt all camera’s will be focused on the Italian before Sunday’s match at Tottenham.

    The 24-year-old completed his £16million move from AC Milan on Monday, and looks set to make his Liverpool debut at White Hart Lane – but will it be from the start?

    Brendan Rodgers has started with a 4-3-3 formation for both of the Reds opening Premier League matches, with Raheem Sterling and Phillipe Coutinho both operating just behind Daniel Sturridge.

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    Steven Gerrard has resumed his holding midfield role, with Jordan Henderson partnering either Joe Allen or Lucas Leiva just ahead.

    But with the signing of Balotelli completed, are we set to see the return of the midfield diamond deployed so successfully by Rodgers during the second half of last season?

    The Liverpool boss pointed out last week that the Reds have flipped to that system in both of their opening Premier League games, with Rickie Lambert introduced as a second half substitute in both, and making an impact.

    The former Southampton man caused disruption when introduced as a substitute on the opening day of the season, and had a hand in the build up to Daniel Sturridge’s winner against the Saints.

    The 32-year-old played a part in the Reds consolation in the 3-1 defeat at the Etihad on Monday as well, forcing the own goal from Pablo Zabaletta after seeing his close range header kept out by Joe Hart.

    With the Reds having scored two of their three goals this season when playing in that system, Rodgers may well be tempted to go with Balotelli from the start on Sunday.

    That begs the question as to who is most likely to be left out of the starting XI in favour of the new £16million man, with Phillipe Coutinho perhaps looking the most likely candidate.

    The Brazilian was the stand out performer for the Reds in pre-season, but has struggled to make an impact in either of the opening Premier League clashes, being substituted on both occasions.

    Coutinho has featured from the wings most often, and has struggled to get involved in the game despite his license to drift inside.

    Rodgers used the diamond nine times last season, and saw his side win eight of those matches and draw the other – that fateful 3-3 at Crystal Palace.

    Of course, the success of that system last season owed much to the skill and industry of Luis Suarez, and it will be fascinating to see how Balotelli operates in the Uruguayan’s role alongside Daniel Sturridge.

    Raheem Sterling was the man used at the tip of that diamond to the best effect, whilst Coutinho was often introduced from the bench.

    Given his man of the match performance against Southampton, you would expect Sterling to get the nod over Brazilian in that supporting role on Sunday.

    Whilst Coutinho was used in a midfield three on occasion last season – notably in the 5-1 win over Arsenal at Anfield in February where he showed his ability both offensively and defensively – Joe Allen’s high pressing game alongside Jordan Henderson means he is likely to get the nod.

    It could be argued that Henderson and Allen both enjoyed their best Liverpool performances of the season at White Hart Lane in December, as the Reds ran out 5-0 winners.

    Their energy and ability to press the opposition high up the pitch will be crucial if the Reds are to get a positive result in north London.

    Gerrard – who missed that 5-0 win last season – will sit in the holding role, a position he perhaps enjoyed his most success when playing in the diamond formation. The 32-year-old thrived most with two strikers to ping passes to and Raheem Sterling drifting between the lines.

    Daniel Sturridge has looked sharp in the opening matches of the season, with a goal and an assist to his name thus far.

    It will be fascinating to see how he performs alongside Balotelli, and whether the England and Italy number 9’s can form an effective partnership.

    If there are early signs that could prove the case on Sunday, then perhaps we can expect to see the diamond formation more frequently this season.

    Would you like to see Balotelli start on Sunday? Will Rodgers go with the diamond formation? Let us know your thoughts below. 

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