Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Besiktas Pay The Penalty

After a long winter break from European competition after suffering an exit from the Champions League, Liverpool began their second campaign of the season by debuting in the Europa League with the visit of Turkish side Besiktas.

The team selected included a third start in a row for Daniel Sturridge as Phillipe Coutinho extended his long run to 18 consecutive games with the duo accompanied by Jordon Ibe who made his European debut for the Reds.

Besiktas' last visit to Anfield saw them crushed 8-0 in 2007 but such a repeat seemed impossible in a fairy tight first half between the sides which began with Daniel Sturridge testing Cenk Gonen from a tight angle inside four minutes.

Veli Kavlak threatened for the visitors in the 32nd minute after connecting to a corner but his header failed to test Simon Mignolet as the ball narrowly missed the top of the crossbar but when Demba Ba latched on to a through pass in the 35th minute, memories of the infamous 'Gerrard slip' strike surfaced though this time around the counter resulted in a superb tipping save from Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool came close to breaking the deadlock just before the interval with Sturridge curling a free-kick over the bar and Alberto Moreno sweeping a long range shot which saw Gonen tip the ball over the bar. However, Liverpool's best chance of the game came in the 46th minute when Jordan Henderson's free-kick crept past the post with Gonen unmoved on the far post.

A close first 15 minutes of the second half saw the sides remain level past the hour mark which saw Henderson hit a chance narrowly past the post before a double switch saw Dejan Lovren and Mario Balotelli replace Joe Allen and Phillipe Coutinho which allowed Emre Can to move into midfield.

The Reds final change saw Raheem Sterling replace Adam Lallana and the former made an instant impact when he created a counter-attack which allowed him to find Sturridge who clipped the ball over from an acute angle. Liverpool looked the likeliest to break the deadlock and with five minutes left of the 90, they were given a great chance as Jordan Ibe's run into the box saw him felled resulting in a penalty.

Jordan Henderson collected the ball but seemed to be deposed as Mario Balotelli stepped in and chose to take the spot-kick which proved to be a good decision as he casually slotted past Gonen to open the scoring and seal a first leg advantage.

The Italian's strike proved to be enough at the final whistle but the issue of the penalty taker seemed to continue past the end of the game with a number of differing opinions.