LFC 1-0 Besiktas: Balotelli snatches the win with a late penalty

Europa League Last 32 1st Leg
Thursday 19 February 2015 - 8:05 pm
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Liverpool will take a slender lead to Istanbul thanks to a late penalty scored in front of the Kop by substitute Mario Balotelli.

Mario Balotelli scores a penalty against Besiktas

The Italian arrived on the pitch with 13 minutes to go and had to take the ball from Brendan Rodgers' apparent first choice penalty-taker, Jordan Henderson, before putting it in the net.

But before all that excitement of the 85th minute, this was a game that was billed to kick-start Liverpool's European resurgence.  After a weak display in the 6 group games of the Champions League - Liverpool were to be vindicated.  League and Domestic cup form had improved in the intervening months, but after the first 45 minutes of this game many supporters will have wondered if European football was fast becoming Brendan Rodgers' and Liverpool's new Kryptonite.

Besiktas arguably had the more clear cut of the first half chances - Demba Ba with a breakaway run that forced a solid save from Mignolet and the reds defence went missing at a corner to allow Kavlar a great chance - he headed narrowly wide from 6 yards.

Rising star Jordon Ibe was showing promise down the wing, but the supply chain often broke down with Sturridge who still looks a combination of rusty and greedy.  Opportunities could have arisen for others had the English striker looked up on more than one occasion.

Towards the end of the half Moreno blasted a chance from a full 40 yards.  A Riise-moment was denied however when the opposition keeper tipped over.

Second half and the reds are kicking towards the Kop.  Ibe tricks his way forward, Henderson sends it to the back post but Moreno gets it horribly wrong and misses a great chance to blast in from the edge of the 6 yard box.

Moments later and Gönen in the Turkish goal gets tangled up, Lallana closes in with the goalmouth gaping wide - he side foots the ball over the bar.

The reds laboured on - Besiktas were becoming less inventive and appeared content maintaining the draw (and avoiding the 8-0 they suffered last time).  Lovren and Sterling were sent on to replace a strangely disappointing Coutinho and Moreno.  Although Lovren picked up an early yellow card his gradual re-integration into the Liverpool team appears to be going better than being plunged straight in as he was in the late summer and Autumn.

With 13 minutes left the manager decided it was time to play two strikers up front and off went Lallana and on came Balotelli.

Mario won a free kick within a minute.  And he was going to take this one too.  It was on target - unlike many others on the night but it was an easy one to save for the keeper.

With five minutes to go, Ibe's hard-work and trickery won the reds a penalty.  Henderson picked up the ball - acting on team orders but Balotelli soon had it within his grasp.  The Liverpool match captain appeared happy at first to let one of World football's more reliable penalty-takers take the responsibility - but Sturridge intervened suggesting that Henderson should take it back off him.  Strange.

This intervention seemed to alter Henderson's thought process and he shook his head whilst looking at the bench.

Balotelli stepped up and scored the penalty, and ultimately the winning goal.

After the game Brendan Rodgers batted away questions about the team orders - although in a TV studio at Anfield the club captain insisted that Balotelli had been 'disrespectful' and suggested that Henderson should have taken it.

So finally after 6 months of being at Anfield, just as Balotelli hits some form (involved in the last 3 match-winning goals for the reds) it is his OWN captain causing him grief in the media.

We are Liverpool eh?

The reds roll on to Southampton at the weekend for a crunch Premier League game - followed by a crunch game in the second leg at the Ataturk - followed by a crunch game at home to Man City.....

You get the picture.  Busy times for Liverpool.  11 wins and 5 draws in the last 17 games. Much better.

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