Liverpool 1 Basel 1: Three talking points as 10-man Reds fall short
Three talking points as Liverpool crash out of the Champions League
‘Oh you beauty!’
Liverpool supporters could be forgiven for indulging in some nostalgia before their must-win clash against Basel. On Monday, the Reds remembered the 10th anniversary of Steven Gerrard’s unforgettable strike against Olympiacos at Anfield, which secured their passage into the Champions League knockout stage. Rafael Benitez’s men went on to win the competition in dramatic fashion in Istanbul. Needing a final group game win for the first time since 8 December 2004, Liverpool fell behind after Fabian Frei rifled a finish past Simon Mignolet. If this were Benitez’s side, or even the Liverpool of last season, you’d anticipate a comeback. But the Reds are like a boxer who has run out of ideas after an eight-round beating. It was a sucker punch, and with Gerrard now 34 and struggling to earn a place in the side, a resurgence of Rocky Balboa proportions was never on the cards. The knockout blow came 27 minutes from the end when substitute Lazar Markovic caught Behrang Safari with a hand in the face. Down to 10 men, Gerrard did ensure their campaign didn’t end with a whimper as he scored his 100th goal at Anfield to get the Kop on their feet and offer late hope. But there was to be no ‘Oh you beauty!’ moment at the death as Liverpool were eliminated from the Champions League.
Too many midfielders spoil Liverpool’s broth
On a night where nothing less than three points would suffice, Brendan Rodgers sprung a surprise with his decision to start Joe Allen, Lucas Levia, Gerrard and Jordan Henderson. It was all a little too like-for-like. While Gerrard, Henderson and Lucas were cautious but unsurprising inclusions, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana would have offered something a little difference in the place of Allen. Even with a litany of supposed passing midfielders, Liverpool were criminally wasteful in possession. Only Henderson offered real support to Lambert and Sterling, as Gerrard couldn’t get his passing game going, while Allen and Lucas collided all too often. It highlighted Rodgers’s change in tact since last season, looking to be cautious and contain a dangerous Basel side. If his initial team selection didn’t frustrate, the manager’s decision to introduce Markovic ahead of Coutinho or Lallana was baffling. While Markovic was reckless to throw a hand in Safari’s direction, Liverpool have been naive in Europe throughout the campaign.
Liverpool exceeded expectations (last season)
Do Liverpool have a divine right to be in the Champions League? No. But the Anfield nights were missed. Unfortunately, Rodgers’s Liverpool side have been out-of-sorts for much of the season, and it has been no different in Europe. It is bittersweet that the man who the Reds were indebted to for their top-four finish decided to join Barcelona in a £75m deal this summer. Add to Luis Suarez’s departure the fact that Daniel Sturridge has played zero Champions League minutes this season, and it isn’t too surprising that Liverpool have struggled. Coutinho and Raheem Sterling belong in Europe’s top tier, but aside from the attacking pair and Gerrard, it is a Liverpool squad lacking confidence and quality. There is no question the Merseyside outfit exceeded expectations last season, and the Champions League has come too early for the Reds. The priority for Rodgers should be restoring morale and laying the foundations for a top-four bid in the second half of the campaign. The Europa League, too, offers hope of qualification to next season’s Champions League.