LIVERPOOL: Mario Balotelli reappeared for the last 26 minutes against Manchester United after a two-week illness absence, but he did nothing in that time to suggest he has anything to offer to repay even a fraction of the £16m he cost from Milan last summer.

This was the old, bad Mario, not Super Mario. He collected a yellow card after tripping Phil Jones then risked another in a tangle with Chris Smalling.

Balotelli was not happy early in the season playing as a lone striker during the injury absence of England striker Daniel Sturridge. The Italy striker prefers the support role but even that now has been claimed by the ever more impressive Raheem Sterling.

The former Manchester City and Inter Milan striker has appeared only 13 times in the league and has scored a meagre one single goal, last month against Tottenham. His three other strikes have come in the Champions League and League Cup.

At least manager Brendan Rodgers has not had to cope with the off-field antics which scarred Balotelli’s time at Manchester City and the player’s old mentor, Roberto Mancini, still believes in him.

Mancini, now back at Inter where he handed a teenage Balotelli a breakthrough chance, said: “Mario has a big chance because he has a good manager and he is back in the Premier League – for me, one of the best in the world. I don’t think that he can lose this chance because Liverpool is a top club, and Mario is a top player.

“Mario is a good guy. Maybe sometimes because he is young he can have not very good behaviour. But it’s normal for a young guy. At the same time, I think Brendan, in his mind, knows that Mario could be an important player for Liverpool.”

Theoretically Balotelli has two years remaining on his contract to justify Mancini’s faith but it will be a surprise if he is even still at Anfield next season.