Liverpool 2 Ludogorets 1: Three talking points as Balotelli scores

Liverpool 2 Ludogorets 1: Talking points as Steven Gerrard rescues the Reds with a late penalty at Anfield

Kieran Beckles
By Kieran Beckles
Liverpool
2
Ludogorets
1

SOS! Liverpool miss SAS

It is tough to come to terms with the loss of one key player, but Liverpool are currently playing without two of their key talismans from last season. Luis Suarez completed a £75m move to Barcelona in the summer, resulting in a spending spree at Anfield. Daniel Sturridge, meanwhile, is sidelined with a thigh injury which the 24-year-old picked up on international duty. Missing both members of their 54-goal SAS partnership, Brendan Rodgers’s frontline is dramatically different and dysfunctional at the moment. £16m signing Mario Balotelli struggled against Aston Villa and the Italy international was muted against Ludogorets, too. The 24-year-old lacks the quick movement of Sturridge and Suarez in the channels, which results in Liverpool’s approach play being too predictable. Adam Lallana appears to be lacking match sharpness, whilst Philippe Coutinho is yet to emerge as the brain of this Liverpool side. The Brazilian struggled to find team-mates in red throughout the Champions League clash. Thankfully, Steven Gerrard remains a consistent in this Liverpool team and the 34-year-old skipper scored an injury-time penalty to deny the visitors a point after Daniel Abolo’s 90th-minute leveller.

Welcome to the Champions League

It is easy to forget that Liverpool struggled in the Europa League under Rodgers during the Northern Irishman’s first season at Anfield. And on their return to the Champions League for the first time in five years, it is accurate to say Liverpool struggled again. Fast starts were a feature of the glorious European nights under Rafael Benitez in the latter stages of their runs in 2005 and 2007. Last season, Rodgers’s side pieced together a title bid in the final third of the season as the Reds blew away opponents in the opening 20 minutes of games. But the five-time European champions stuttered, similar to their 1-0 loss to Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday. If Liverpool fail to land an early blow on their opponents, too often the Reds become nervy and impatient. But Rodgers needs to preach patience as Liverpool will come up against resilient opposition in the Champions League. It is easy forget, too, that Ludogorets won at PSV Eindhoven and Lazio in the Europa League last season. As the old adage goes, there are no easy games in the Champions League.

Balotelli opens Liverpool account

Despite having a quiet evening, Balotelli did open his account for Liverpool with seven minutes remaining. It underlined the 24-year-old’s penchant for a big goal. As mentioned, Balotelli may not be as nimble a mover as Sturridge or Suarez, the former Inter Milan is more of a nuisance with the ball into his chest or feet. His strength was crucial as he kept his balance to control a low pass, swivel before guiding his effort past Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan. It marked his first goal in the Champions League and draws the Reds striker level on goals in the competition with John Terry, Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner; an illustrious list. Post-match, Gerrard was quick to praise Balotelli, saying: “You have to give Mario Balotelli credit, it didn’t go his way for long periods but the sign of a good goal-scorer is to keep going and get a chance. What’s more important is his work rate.”

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