Thursday 22 February 2018

Reds crash out in Turkey

Besiktas 1 Liverpool 0 (1-1 on agg, Besiktas win 5-4 on penalties)

Dejan Lovren of Liverpool is consoled by Martin Skrtel (L) and Emre Can (R) after missing the decisive kick in the penalty shoot out against Besiktas JK
Dejan Lovren of Liverpool is consoled by Martin Skrtel (L) and Emre Can (R) after missing the decisive kick in the penalty shoot out against Besiktas JK
Dejan Lovren misses his penalty to send Liverpool crashing out of the Europa League against Besiktas
Liverpool players look dejected as Demba Ba of Besiktas (9) celebrates
Goalkeeper Cenk Gonen of Besiktas saves a shot from Daniel Sturridge
Alberto Moreno is tackled by Serdar Kurtulus (2) and Necip Uysal
Necip Uysal of Besiktas outjumps Raheem Sterling

Luke Edwards

It was never going to have the same spine-tingling brilliance or history-defining prestige as Liverpool's famous Champions League final win in this stadium a decade ago, but a Europa League defeat was never supposed to be as painful as this.

There was enough drama to write another chapter in the club's proud European history, but it will be filed under the failure section as Dejan Lovren missed the only spot-kick in a penalty shootout to send Besiktas through after the tie had finished 1-1 on aggregate.

It is the first time Liverpool have failed to win the 12-yard lottery in Europe. It was just another setback for Lovren, whose move from Southampton last summer turned sour long before he sent his penalty high and wide.

As with all defeats of this kind it was agonising, but the suffering was accentuated by the fact Liverpool were forced to play for 120 minutes rather than 90.

Tactically, Liverpool got things right in the first half, their speed in attack forcing Besiktas to keep men back rather than push forward in great numbers, while a three man defence was able to suffocate the Turkish side's lone striker Demba Ba easily enough.


But they did not convert their chances and in the second, sat too deep and invited too much pressure. Eventually Besiktas got the equaliser their raucous supporters craved and Brendan Rodgers got what he dreaded ahead of Sunday lunchtime's pivotal Premier League game with Manchester City - extra-time.

The sight of Daniel Sturridge limping off after the first period means the Europa League has already inflicted collateral damage on Liverpool's pursuit of a top four finish.

With injuries and fatigue taken into account, this was the strongest side Rodgers could have named for a game they began with a one-goal advantage from the first leg at Anfield.

Few stadiums generate as much noise as those packed full of Turkish supporters sensing a memorable occasion - although the spitting at journalists and coin throwing needs to be eradicated by Uefa - and as hard as Liverpool tried, it must have been difficult to keep their concentration sharp and emotions controlled.

Mario Balotelli was found wanting with the latter, picking up an early booking for a rash sliding tackle just minutes after he had been warned by referee Damir Skomina following an altercation with several Besiktas players, who were keen to antagonise the mercurial Italian.

Liverpool were the more threatening team before the break, Alberto Moreno advancing down the left and pushing the ball on to Sterling, whose shot from the edge of the area was pushed away by Cenk Gonen.

Liverpool were starting to threaten, pressing high up the pitch, they rattled Besiktas' defenders and deep midfielders. The crowd began to quieten a little, although Sturridge should have done better running on to a long ball over the top than allow Franco to recover the ball. It was a deliberate ploy, Sturridge darting on to another long pass over the heads of the defence, squaring to Raheem Sterling, but his shot deflected wide for a corner, from which Martin Skrtel headed over the bar.

The chances were all falling to the visitors, Balotelli teeing up Sturridge, but his low strike was well saved by the goalkeeper.

Not for the first time, though, the England striker took too long on the ball before deciding what to do with it. The shot should have been hit early. He is danger of falling into bad old habits.

Liverpool needed a goal while they were on top, Moreno's first time effort, after a precise inter-change with Balotelli, straight at Gonen.

Besiktas were clinging on, but they did force a decent save from Simon Mignolet before half time when Olcay Sahan cut inside and let fly from 20 yards. It was a warning to Liverpool, this game could still be lost.

Besiktas started the second half strongly, but Liverpool defended well, limiting Serdar Kurtulus and Jose Sosa to long-range shots that Mignolet dealt with efficiently enough.

The pressure grew on the visitors, not helped by Balotelli and Sturridge's inability to hold on to the ball up top. Besiktas were still confined to trying the spectacular, although substitute Tolgay Arslan went close from 30 yards and they eventually got the goal they had threatened since half-time.

Ba received a pass from Gokhan Tore, turned away from Skrtel and Arslan thumped a shot home from the edge of the area.

Besiktas should have won it in the first minute of stoppage time too when Ba pounced on a loose ball, but crashed a shot against the bar from five yards.

The former Chelsea man drew a sharp save from Mignolet in the first period of extra-time as the home team continued to push Liverpool back. They clung on, but it was in vain. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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