Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli has cut a lonely figure since moving to Liverpool.Getty Images

The Mario Balotelli gamble failed to pay off against Chelsea, and after this latest failure his time is surely up at Liverpool.

It was a brave move by Brendan Rodgers to bring the Italian on against Chelsea with the hope that facing his ex-manager would give the striker the emphasis to do the one thing he has failed to do with any consistency all season – take a game by the scruff of the neck and find the back of the net.

But it was Jose Mourinho who stayed firm, leading his team to the League Cup final, while Balotelli crumbled. The striker was at fault for losing the ball seconds before the Lucas foul that led to Willian's free kick; then Balotelli was ball-watching as Branislav Ivanovic lost him in Liverpool's six-yard box to sweetly connect with the ball, heading it past the flailing Simon Mignolet and in turn grabbing the game's only goal.

A gamble reflective of Balotelli's season, the faith Rodgers put in the Italy striker 70 minutes in – a late drive for success – mirrors the Liverpool manager's move to bring the 24-year-old to Anfield last August, with the summer transfer window at its eve.

And so the same old issue cropped up as far as the Chelsea goal came. Conceding from set-pieces has been a constant bugbear for Liverpool and the semi-final was no exception. Questions have to be asked of the zonal marking and who was picking up who. You want your biggest, brashest players battling where the ball will drop from a free-kick and Martin Skrtel should having been picking up Ivanovic, not Balotelli. Hopefully, that's a big lesson learnt.

It's a shame really, as Liverpool went hammer and tongs into a high-intensity battle with Chelsea, a game that produced many highlights, not least for the neutral fans, who were treated to a tactical jaunt worthy of a semi-final.

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There were positives for Rodgers to take away. Thibaut Courtois may have won the battle of the Belgian keepers but Mignolet appeared to take all the criticism directed at him this season and put it towards his best performance this term. A 10-minute spell saw some fantastic stops and had he kept the Ivanovic header from crossing the line, he would likely be taking the plaudits.

Liverpool as a whole look like they are starting to gel as a team, showing the sort of intensity and clinical passing that saw them challenge for the league last season. Philippe Coutinho ran the show in his number 10 role and was unlucky not to come away with a goal, denied by the immense Courtois. Henderson, while lucky to stay on the pitch, showed versatility popping up on the right, left and middle of the pitch. And Emre Can showed he can play a role on the right side of the defence, keeping Eden Hazard quiet for the best part of the match.

What was clear, once again, was a dearth of penetration in the final third and a lack of seeing the Chelsea net bulge. Balotelli simply isn't up to the job and the return of Daniel Sturridge can't come a moment too soon (although we don't want him to rush back and pick up yet another injury).

The late, late, Lambert show was perhaps a step too far for a Liverpool team shattered as they went into extra time, with Chelsea knowing they had the upper hand and a game of keep ball was all that was required. But reinforcements up front in the summer, if not now, are certainly required.

And if Phil Thompson has his way, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gonzalo Higuain will be taking some of the pressure off Sturridge's shoulders during the latter half of this season. But when we see a repeat of this fixture in the Premier League in May, tantalising and swashbuckling to boot - hopefully without the high yellow card count and Diego Costa stamping allegations - let's hope Balotelli is not privy to the proceedings.

Stacey McIntosh is chief sub-editor of IBTimes UK. He has previously written for Metro and Men's Fitness.