Mario Balotelli racism abuse statistics shock Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers

LIVERPOOL -- Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers says he was shocked to learn that Mario Balotelli is the most abused Premier League footballer on social media.

An investigation by the anti-discrimination body Kick It Out has found that the Italy international receives more abusive posts than any other top-flight player in England.

More than 8,000 abusive posts were directed at Balotelli between August 2014 and March 2015 -- of which more than half were racist.

"I was shocked when I saw that," Rodgers said. "One abusive message is one too many. We support all organisations who are trying to stamp out that kind of behaviour."

Last September, Merseyside Police investigated a stream of racist messages directed at Balotelli after he mocked Manchester United's 5-3 Premier League defeat at Leicester on Twitter.

Arsenal's Danny Welbeck was the second-most abused player on social media, according to Kick It Out, while Balotelli's Liverpool teammate Daniel Sturridge was third.

Balotelli has missed Liverpool's last three matches -- the first with a knee problem, the last two with an illness -- and will be assessed ahead of Sunday's FA Cup semifinal against Aston Villa at Wembley.

As Sturridge is struggling with a hip injury, Raheem Sterling could be play the centre-forward role against Villa.

Rodgers confirmed at a news conference on Friday that he has spoken to Sterling and winger Jordon Ibe about their behaviour after they were photographed smoking a shisha pipe.

England international Sterling has also been pictured inhaling nitrous oxide, known colloquially as "laughing gas."

Neither activity is illegal and Liverpool have chosen not to fine either player, but they were both reminded of their responsibilities as professional footballers during a meeting with Rodgers on Thursday.

The manager said: "It's important that there's perspective. Raheem didn't do anything illegal. For me, it's about looking after their health and welfare."