From Liverpool’s very first match in the Champions League this season up until tonight’s exit from the Europa League, they have shown a lack of quality and killer instinct. Their poor start to the Premier League campaign unsurprisingly carried into their matches in the Champions League group stages and this led to their embarrassing exit. Their improvement since the end of 2014 gave Liverpool fans hope of a revival on the European stage, but they have failed to carry that good form into the Europa League. They may have dominated the opening leg and won the match, but they were wasteful in front of goal. The return leg in Istanbul showed their lack of squad depth with key players missing. Most important of all, it showed how much they lacked a real leader in the team. Without Steven Gerrard, they looked lost at times and this made them look vulnerable against an impressive Besiktas side. They were fortunate enough to make it as far as the penalty shootout and Brendan Rodgers will look back on his side’s performance in Europe overall as a lost opportunity. Many would have expected much more from them, having spent so long away from the Champions League.
It may not have been their strongest defence on the night with Mamadou Sakho missing from injury and Emre Can playing in midfield, but Rodgers has a dilemma on his hands that he may not be aware of. Dejan Lovren was meant to become an integral part of the Liverpool back four but he has been a disappointing signing since he joined the club in the summer. He was arguably the worst player on the pitch against Besiktas and he looked insecure and nervous from start to finish. Martin Skrtel is by far their best centre-half but even he can’t be considered world-class, which is essential in a side that is challenging for titles. Meanwhile, Kolo Toure is hardly the type of defender you want in a top-four chasing side whether he is a back-up or not. He is past his prime and it is time Rodgers lets him go. Even with his strongest back four on the pitch, the Reds are extremely vulnerable and we have seen that happen across the last two seasons. Glenn Johnson is hardly a quality right-back and he wasn’t missed against Besiktas, yet he seems almost irreplaceable. Sakho may well turn into a top centre-half, but his life won’t be made any easier unless Rodgers injects more quality to the back four. Even with a fully fit defensive line, they struggle against mediocre sides and the lack of quality their second string players showed against their Turkish opponents exposed a great weakness in Liverpool.
Whatever Slaven Bilic said to his players at half-time worked wonders. They were poor in the first 45 minutes as they gave the ball away on a number of occasions, particularly in key attacking areas. They were also careless in their passing and ball control in front of the back four and their errors nearly allowed Liverpool to score on more than one occasion. However, Bilic’s half-time team-talk certainly made the difference. The likes of Gökhan Töre, Demba Ba and Daniel Opare sparked into life as they caused havoc in Liverpool’s half of the pitch. Töre’s runs down the left and down the centre of the pitch were causing the away defence all sorts of troubles and he ended the match as the best player on the field. His cut inside and pass to Demba Ba made created that vital goal for Besiktas. Bilic’s decision to bring on Tolgay Arslan proved crucial as the 24-year-old scored a well-taken goal. He also tore the Liverpool midfield and defence apart at times with his runs before scoring a vital penalty. Besiktas may not be the most skillful side but Bilic’s ability to inspire is why they have done so well this season. The work ethic in his side just shows the impact he has had on the team since he took over before the start of last season. His inspiration could take Besiktas a long way in this competition.
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