Mario Balotelli penalty seals win for Liverpool over Besiktas
Brendan Rodgers looked unimpressed when Italian took spot-kick ahead of Henderson
Liverpool’s Daniel Sturrdige talks to Mario Balotelli after he took the ball from Jordan Henderson before scoring the penalty for Liverpool’s 1-0 victory during the UEFA Europa League round of 32 match against Besiktas at Anfield. Photograph: EPA
Liverpool 1 Besiktas 0 The rehabilitation of Mario Balotelli continues apace at Liverpool. Last week it was a late winner against Tottenham Hotspur that enhanced Brendan Rodgers’ prospects of Champions League qualification, on Saturday he contributed to Adam Lallana’s winner in the FA Cup against Crystal Palace and on Thursday last night his 85th-minute penalty earned Liverpool a slender but valuable victory over Besiktas.
Balotelli being Balotelli, his latest late winner was not without controversy and Rodgers looked distinctly unimpressed when the Italian took spot-kick duties away from the captain, Jordan Henderson, after Jordon Ibe had been clipped inside the area. Balotelli sent Cenk Gonen the wrong way to spare Liverpool from another formidable European task at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul.
Besiktas reflected a coach who spent his playing career in central defence for Croatia, West Ham United and Everton. “I like to see good football,”Slaven Bilic had explained. “But I think only good defensive organisation will give you the opportunity to be effective in attack.” He remained true to that philosophy by deploying two banks of four to nullify an attack led by Daniel Sturridge but missing Raheem Sterling’s ability to stretch a well-drilled defence. Sterling started on the bench having missed the last two matches with a foot problem and, along with everyone else in the stadium, was quickly aware of Bilic’s intention to keep things tight.
This was Sturridge’s European debut for Liverpool more than two years after joining the club from Chelsea and he was clearly intent on making up for lost time. The striker, released down the right by Jordon Ibe, turned superbly away from Ersan Gulum on the by-line but was unable to beat Besiktas’ second-choice goalkeeper, Cenk Gonen, with an optimistic shot towards his near post.
The game developed into a stalemate for much of the first half with Liverpool’s final ball often found wanting and Besiktas content to sit deep. There was more entertainment in watching Bilic’s antics. The Croatian kicked every pass, jumped to head every high ball into the box, railed at the Polish referee, sank to his haunches when Liverpool attacked and leapt up as Besiktas formed a wall to defend a Henderson free-kick from 25 yards. His effort landed inches wide with Cenk rooted on the opposite side of goal.
Alberto Moreno also went close from distance, so too Sturridge from a free-kick 25 yards out. The visitors were not without their chances too, however.
Veli Kavlak sent a glancing header just over from Jose Sosa’s corner and Anfield was transported back to April, and that Chelsea goal that punctured Liverpool’s title dream, when Demba Ba was sent sprinting through on the Kop goal by Olcay Sahan. This time Ba shot low to Simon Mignolet’s left rather than through the goalkeeper’s legs and the Belgian produced a fine save to tip the ball out for a corner.
Again Henderson was involved, bursting down the right and delivering a cross that should have been routine for the Besiktas keeper Cenk. Instead Cenk collided with central defender Pedro Franco and dropped the ball towards the in-rushing Liverpool midfielder who, under pressure from Franco, skied over from close range. A major let-off for Bilic’s side, but Balotelli would not let them escape completely. LIVERPOOL: Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Ibe, Henderson, Allen (Lovren 63), Moreno, Lallana (Sterling 77), Sturridge, Coutinho (Balotelli 63). Subs not used: Ward, Lambert, Manquillo, Borini. Booked: Lovren. BESIKTAS: Gonen, Kurtulus, Franco, Gulum, Ramon, Hutchinson, Kavlak, Tore, Sosa (Ozyakup 60), Sahan (Frei 71), Ba. Subs not used: Fidayeo, Pektemek, Arslan, Uysal, Opare. Booked: Gulum, Kurtulus, Ramon, Franco. Referee: Szymon Marciniak (Poland).