Sunday, 14 December 2014

Europa League Awaits Exiting Reds

Alike their last Champions League double header against Basel which saw Liverpool exit the competition with a draw nearly 12 years ago to the day, the Reds suffered a similar fate that will see them grace the Europa League early next year. 

Basel have proved to be a tough task for English opponents and Tuesday night was no different as they sealed qualification alongside defending champions Real Madrid while Liverpool face a tough unseeded drop into the Europa League joining city rivals Everton. 

Brendan Rodgers made four changes from the weekend with Joe Allen, Jose Enrique, Steven Gerrard and Dejan Lovren returned to boost the Reds hopes of reaching the knockout stages, the opening exchanges were bright from the home side but the Swiss side had the first real chance.

An attack saw Luca Zuffi look to threaten the Liverpool defence when he picked out Shkelzen Gashi but luckily for the home crowd, the shot went wide of the target. Gashi looked to be a good influence on the Basel attack and when he found Marco Streller, Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel did well to block the Basel captain's effort. 

Liverpool's task suffered a blow in the 25th minute when Fabian Frei exchanged a one-two with Zuffi with the former collecting the return ball ans rifling a powerful shot into the bottom corner past a helpless Simon Mignolet. 

The lead could have been doubled when Streller drifted into space and swept in a dangerous cross which made its way to Fabian Schar who connected well but his effort saw an instant block from Jose Enrique. Basel looked to be going into the interval two goals ahead after Gashi connected to a pass through the Liverpool defence and hit past Mignolet before the effort was chalked off by the linesman.

Liverpool needed two goals without reply to advance and began the second half with two changes as Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno replaced Rickie Lambert and Jose Enrique, the two substitutes looked bright early on and led to the home side making a good start to the half. 

Basel responded with a good effort from Taulent Xhaka from close range but Liverpool were son in trouble when a run from Lazar Markovic saw him flick out a hand towards Behrang Safari and was controversially dismissed on the spot leaving the hosts with a mountain to climb on the hour mark.

The numerical disadvantage strangely seemed to help the hosts and Martin Skrtel had a good chance to level with a thunderous shot from long range which caused concern for Vaclik in the Basel goal before sailing past the upright. A clever combination between Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling in the 71st minute put Steven Gerrard in on goal with the Reds captain tumbling after Vaclik claimed the ball with the crowd appealing for a foul.
Liverpool had just 10 minutes to stage a miraculous turnaround and had a chance to begin the task when Schar committed a foul on the edge of his own area, Gerrard stepped up and swept a glorious free-kick into the net right in front of the euphoric Kop whose belief began to grow.
Just one more push from the ten men was needed to seal a superb comeback and when Moreno sprayed the ball to Henderson in the centre, the midfielder's header took a wild deflection before edging towards the line and being recovered at the last second by Vaclik, to the anguish of the home fans.
Liverpool continued to threaten the Basel backline with a number of shots in the final seconds but to no effect as they completed a poor campaign in the competition that saw them exit with just one win in six games.