A great show from Jordon Ibe and a cool penalty from Mario Balotelli made sure Liverpool is on the front foot in the Europa League tie against Besiktas from Turkey. The 1-0 win at Anfield was a decent performance, no more.
Liverpool and Besiktas played out quite an entertaining game, not top-notch, but fair. Both sides were pretty tight at the back and had some moments in attack. Demba Ba missed a fine opportunity for Besiktas and Adam Lallana missed a sitter for Liverpool.
It took a 85th minute penalty to settle things in this round of 32 clash. And this was the incident every after-match discussion was about. Here is my take on the matter.
You can sum it up as an overhyped drama with a couple of disturbing elements. First of all it was the right man who took the penalty. Balotelli is as cool as a cucumber from the spot and has converted a lot of penalties and hardly ever missed. If Jordan Henderson was meant to take it then someone must have been completely delusional nominating him. Hendo himself was, as it already appeared on the telly, quite prepared to hand it over to Balo. Why Daniel Sturridge got involved is beyond me. He urged Henderson to take the ball way from Balotelli and when the Italian scored Studge didn´t congratulate him. On the whole a strange and unacceptable behaviour from Sturridge and unfit for a Liverpool player.
And afterwards Steven Gerrard said that Balotelli had been wrong not letting Henderson take the penalty claiming it was already decided before the match. Well, I don´t know how Stevie was thinking. The decision must be made in a live situation and not on a calm training field. The player who is up for it when it´s time for a penalty is the guy to take it. Balotelli was confident, Henderson saw it and did the right thing to back down. Hendo is not an experienced penalty taker so he made the right decision.
The worrying thing is that Sturridge thought he ought to get in the middle of things. He should have just shut up before the spot-kick and afterwards congratulated Balo to an expert conversion. But maybe Sturridge feels intimidated by Balotelli and his recent resurgence and don´t want him to be the star smashing home decisive goals.
Because it´s pretty clear that Sturridge fancies himself as the star of Liverpool. You can see it in his play and to an alarming extent yesterday. On a number of occasions he tried to dribble when it was not on and several teammates were in greater positions than him. But he just can release the ball immediately, he must have a lot of touches first and then maybe he can pass it. Sturridge is always trying something fancy and difficult. A dribble or a fantastic pass. More often than not it doesn´t come off. I don´t know if he wants to show how clever he is, what a fantastic footballer he is.
Well, there is smart way to do it: Don´t dribble and get dispossessed at every opportunity. Instead, pass the ball, move into a new position, recieve the ball there and pass it on immediately. Then the tempo is kept aswell as the ball. And in the end a lot more chances will be created and goals scored. And the man behind could be Daniel Sturridge. This behaviour is the path to stardom not endless, meaningless and downright selfish dribbling.
The dribble should be kept in the locker until it´s a perfect situation for it. For instance when one on one with the last defender and no angles for a shot are available. Otherwise a pass is always the preferrable move. Sturridge claims he studies himself and his own faults, well this is your biggest one, study and rectify and you will be a far more dangerous forward.
Sadly other Liverpool players are also dribbling too much. Raheem Sterling does it and often gets dispossessed and on occasion Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho also are too much in love with the ball releasing it too late.
Jordon Ibe dribbled a lot yesterday but he is very good at it and hardly ever fails so he can keep it up. He is so fast and strong and his body swerving makes opponents dizzy. He can go either way and is almost impossible to catch. His performance yesterday was close to sensational. If he continues like this then Sturridge, Sterling, Balotelli et al will find themselves in the shadow of a new superstar of Anfield.
But I hope Ibe keeps his feet on the ground. A couple of good games means nothing in the long run. A lot of young guys has seemed like world-beaters and then faded. Ibe must be allowed to develop in his own pace and not burdended by too much responsibility. I am, however, optimistic about his future, he could be a magical player.
Another positive is the fact that Liverpool carve out victories when it seems hard to do it. But to often leave it late will come back to haunt us in matches when the breakthrough never surfaces.
Another thing I have noticed is that we hardly ever win in a dominant fashion. I mean we don´t have an aura of invincibility and superiority which great teams have. I am never certain of a victory beforehand, not in the way that I expect Bayern Munich och Barcelona fans are before any given match. I know, Liverpool is in the building stage but the goal must be to become such a feared opposition that teams like Besiktas never fancy their chances at Anfield. Yesterday they really did. We are a long way away from being that force but I am longing for it.
Here are my ratings for the Reds who participated in the first leg of the Europa League round of 32 (on a scale from 1 to 10):
GK Simon Mignolet 5.
Made one crucial save and handled the easier things well.
RB Emre Can 4.
Not as dominant as of late and had some trouble defensively.
CB Martin Skrtel 4.
Made a few rash challenges and was wrongly placed now and then. Not one of his best efforts.
LB Mamadou Sakho 7.
Another fine display, he was tough in duels and passed the ball really well.
RWB Jordon Ibe 8.
Man of the match. A constant threat with his pace and trickery. Magnificent action to get a penalty. Arguably the best performance by a Liverpool player this season.
DM Joe Allen 4.
Back to his average level. No particular impact in either direction.
CM Jordan Henderson 4.
Missed too many passes and but never shirked responsibility.
LWB Alberto Moreno 6.
Alert and eager for 90 minutes. Kept trying to penetrate with runs, passes and crosses.
RF Adam Lallana 5.
Mixed fine things with clumsy ones. Can do much better.
CF Daniel Sturridge 4.
Too selfish and dribbled constantly when it was not on. Inventive in tight situations.
LF Philippe Coutinho 3.
A quiet match by the playmaker. No special contribution.
RB Dejan Lovren 3. (Replaced Joe Allen after 63 mins).
Decent effort but made a couple of ill-advised tackles.
CF Mario Balotelli 6. (Replaced Philippe Coutinho after 63 mins).
Worked hard, combined well with his teammates and grabbed the winner with extreme coolness.
RF Raheem Sterling 3. (Replaced Adam Lallana after 77 mins).
Didn´t do anything significant during his 15 minutes.
Besiktas proved to be a tough defensive nut to crack but Liverpool never gave up, a fine quality we´ve showed in recent months. Not a vintage display but good enough to give us a slight upper hand in the return leg. But it will take a much better performance in Istanbul to take the Reds to the next round. Let´s hope for a favourable outcome so we can declare that in the round of 16:
We Go Again.