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Match data from Who Scored, as StatsZone doesn't cover the Europa League. Which means no Passing Network because StatsZone is the only service which carries pass combinations (you can still find the players' average position at ESPN FC though).
(Nota Bene: Here's the formation diagram usually included in match reviews.)
Typical Liverpool. For better and worse.
Even with Sturridge back, Liverpool are still fairly terrible in front of goal. Liverpool's first shot on-target inside the box came in the fourth minute, Liverpool's first shot of the match: Sturridge's point-blank, no-angle effort. Liverpool's second shot on-target inside the box was Balotelli's penalty in the 85th minute. In between? Five off-target – Lallana's sitter, Moreno's mis-hit volley, set play chances from Henderson, Skrtel, and Lovren – and a sixth which was blocked. That's horrific accuracy despite getting into some decent positions.
And, as has happened more than a few times, that combined with Besiktas' well-marshalled, deep defense forced Liverpool into a lot of shots from outside the box. Moreno's broken-clock's-still-right-twice-a-day effort from 35+ yards was brilliant, Balotelli and Sturridge at least put free kicks on-target, but that was the entirety of Liverpool's threat from outside the area, as Besiktas did well to close down Liverpool's chances from distance, especially in the first half.
All together, Liverpool put just five of its 18 shots on-target – 27.7% accuracy – with five blocked and eight off-target. Yikes.
At the same time, Liverpool remained very good at the back, especially in open play, despite a couple of missteps (and one Opta-defined error) from Emre Can. Besiktas got next to no joy from open play except for Ba's lone chance on the break in the 35th minute. Besiktas' two other remotely decent chances both came from set plays: Kavlak and Gülüm's first half chances from corners, both off-target. Besiktas, like Everton a couple of weeks ago, came to defend rather than attack – which isn't at all surprisingly in a first leg away leg of European competition – but Liverpool still did fairly well to plug most potential holes.
It was Liverpool's seventh clean sheet in the 18 matches since switching to 3-4-2-1. Liverpool kept just four clean sheets in the 23 matches prior.
But Simon Mignolet only had one save to make, which is a credit to Liverpool's defense (and midfield) but also symptomatic of how Besiktas approached the match. Still, Mignolet made it flawlessly, that fast break opportunity with Ba through on goal, with flashbacks of last April's match against Chelsea almost certainly foremost in his mind.
And the match would have ended like that Everton match a couple of a weeks ago if not for Mario Balotelli's late penalty after Ibe's furious run into the box. Special mention need be made of Ibe's performance, man of the match by almost every account. His 11 successful dribbles (including the one just prior to winning the penalty) were only one fewer than Besiktas had in total, and only Jordan Henderson created more chances than Ibe yesterday. His end product could have been even better, most notably failing with two crosses when in an excellent position, but it was another heady performance for a 19-year-old in his first European appearance, in just his fifth start for Liverpool.
More importantly, that was the seventh goal that Liverpool has scored after the 80th minute in cup competition this season: two in the home win against Ludogorets, two to beat Swansea in the league cup, two to beat Bolton in the FA Cup, and yesterday's 85th-minute penalty. Four matches that Liverpool have won at the death, after at least 80 minutes of frustration in each. It's not 2000-01, or even 2011-12, but Liverpool are turning into a reasonably competent cup side, a sign of their determination and increased confidence.
And Mario Balotelli is responsible for three of those late goals, and it's certainly worth mentioning his winner against Tottenham last week while we're on the subject. He's only scored four goals this season, but he's scored in four of the five competitions Liverpool are in this season, only needing an FA Cup goal to complete the set. It's probably no coincidence he's looked a much improved player with Sturridge back in the fold.
Not for the first time this season, Liverpool weren't at their best. But, not for the first time this season (especially during the last two-month stretch), Liverpool were still good enough. Liverpool were reasonably stingy at the back, Liverpool were resilient, and Liverpool kept pushing until finally making the needed breakthrough, even if it would have saved us a lot of agita had they made that breakthrough earlier.
This tie is still very much in the balance, taking a very narrow lead to a very tough ground, and there's still a lot of improvement that can be made, that needs to be made. But you can't ignore the improvement that's already evident.