Finnan Carragher Hyypia Riise
Pennant Gerrard Mascherano Babel
Hyypia (og) 13’
Par for the course for Liverpool’s European campaign so far this season, and a new low at the same time. Falling behind to a “fluke” goal, sloppy and rushed passing, and an inability to take the few chances they got. Déjà vu all over again. For the last three seasons, Liverpool’s been near unbeatable in the Champions League. This year, they’ve put in some of the worst performances in recent memory and can’t buy a win.
Hyypia registered his second own goal in as many games in the 13th minute, and it was even odder than the one at Goodison. Carragher had made an excellent tackle on Bobo only to see his clearance deflect off Finnan’s shins back to Bobo, who slotted it to Serdar Ozkan. Ozkan’s shot looked as if it was going wide (as Andy Gray took great pains to point out), only to have it deflect of Hyypia’s leg, leaving Reina wrong-footed.
It was the same story as the Marseille match for the next 70 minutes. Liverpool was nowhere near their best, or even equal to their performances in the Premier League, and they struggled to assert any dominance or even look a cohesive unit. A small solace is that the effort was better, but that was about it.
There were chances in both the first and second halves, most notably through Gerrard (a volley wide and the keeper claiming with Gerrard running into the box twice -- and he did play better), but few were excellent opportunities.
Meanwhile, Besiktas earned opportunities of their own on the counter attack. After Besiktas took the lead, Bobo played as a lone striker for much of the game, but Liverpool’s defense never looked solid with the team stretched in search of an equalizer. In the 82nd minute, Besiktas, who hadn’t scored a goal in two previous group games, got their second. Following a couple of lovely long passes, Bobo got by Hyypia, and got the ball past Reina, who had come out to try and cut down the angle.
Gerrard pulled back a consolation and got his deserved goal in the 85th minute with a diving header, but despite increased pressure and four minutes of stoppage time, Liverpool couldn’t make up the deficit they gifted the opposition.
Credit to Besiktas; the team defended well once they got ahead, won much of the play in the air, and kept Liverpool from establishing any semblance of stability. After 90 minutes, they were the deserved winners. The Inonu was an absolute cauldron of noise, and the only time the fans were silent was for about a minute following the goal.
I don’t know how to explain Liverpool’s problems in the Champions League. We know that the team misses Alonso and Agger, and the biggest effect today was the rushed quality of play, while both those players are calm on the ball. You can’t fault Liverpool’s effort, but little came off and Besiktas made it difficult. In addition, for some reason, despite the fact that those two are two of Liverpool's best long passers, the team seems more reliant on long balls than ever.
But there’s more to it. No offense to Besiktas, but this Liverpool team should be able to triumph. No matter who’s injured, or that it’s away from home and a cauldron of noise, or the fluke goal.
At this point, I’m almost ready to throw my hands up and hope this Champions League campaign is an aberration. The only way that Liverpool’s going to qualify is if they win their last three games and other results go their way, which they didn’t today with Marseille and Porto drawing 1-1. Marseille’s on 7, Porto 5, and Besiktas 3, with Liverpool earning 1 point from 3 games.
The team is not playing well. There’s little point in singling out players; I saw every player on the pitch give away the ball cheaply, make poor passes, run down blind alleys, etc. And while I’m surprised Crouch didn’t start, I don’t know how much difference it would have made, with Besiktas so dominant in the air and Liverpool having such trouble getting crosses in from the wing. Otherwise, the team selection wasn’t that surprising.
And it’s not rotation, with only two changes (Pennant for Sissoko and Babel for Benayoun) from Saturday’s team. But Benitez is going to come under some stick, and rightfully so, because Liverpool looked tactically inept at times trying to break down the 10 men behind the ball.
One thing’s for sure, Liverpool cannot play like this on Sunday. This team is crying out for an excellent performance, much like the one at the end of March last season.