Suppose I’d better do this hadn’t I? Been avoiding it all morning, been avoiding it since quarter to nine last night. Can’t be bothered. To be honest, I couldn’t be bothered from the end of normal time. To be brutally honest, I’d lost the will to live by the end of normal time. Extra time was an unnecessary burden, penalties were inevitable. Going through on penalties would have been acceptable and totally undeserved.
There were two Liverpools last night. The LIverpool of the first-half that started with solidity at the back - Emre Can tigerish in breaking up play in front of the back three, Joe Allen conducting affairs with short, measured probes - developing into a Liverpool that threatened on the counter attack and dominated that first 45 with a splendid European away display.
Then there was the Liverpool that didn’t turn up in the second-half. It’s hard to know exactly where we lost the game; compelling arguments could be made for both halves. The first saw the threat of Sterling and Sturridge dissipated by a combination of indecision and arrogance; Sterling didn’t seem to know when he should shoot and when he should pass, Sturridge seemed determined to do everything on his own. Balotelli, in a rare start alongside Sturridge, spent the first ten minutes in some mad effort to collect as many yellow cards as possible before settling into a performance of controlled aggression; buffeted by Besiktas’ back line who seemed set on volleying the Italian into the stands at every opportunity but still able to hold the ball up, pull off tricks and flicks, bring others into the game. Everything seemed promising.
And then we stopped. Besiktas, so stunned, so subdued, so intent on nullifying Mario rather than presenting any threat of their own in that first-half, decided to start playing. And we couldn’t figure out what to do about the fact. That we needed to pull a forward in order to strengthen the over-run midfield was obvious. That the substitution came too late to prevent a lovely touch by Ba on the edge of the area and a stunning finish from Arsland was the result of indecision on Brendan’s part.
He left the decision too late, possibly the only man watching the game who couldn’t feel the goal coming. That he said in the after match interviews that we were ‘comfortable’ until the Turkish side scored emphasises that he was reading this one wrong. Rodgers’ in game management has been excellent of late, aided by the improved bench; much has been made of the idea that we fielded a ‘weakened’ team last night but the bench still held better options than at any point last season.
Manquillo for Ibe was designed to reinforce the defence but didn’t really achieve anything. Lallana for Mario designed to create. Same result. The game had run away from us and there was no coming back. In the space of an evening we had managed to move back to last November. Two Liverpools, the wrong one showing up when it mattered most.
The team choice has been questioned but the fact stands that the only ‘decision’ made was to rest Coutinho and we were all fine with that concept. Everything else was dictated by injuries and the side we put out still held enough quality to bring a result home and put us into the last 16 of the competition.
What we found out was this: if we move Emre Can into midfield - where he should be - then we can survive the change IF and only IF we have Sakho on the pitch. So much of our current system is predicated on a centre-back carrying the ball forward. Toure and Lovren are not that centre-back.
Ah, Lovren, yes. Lovren. His disastrous season continues. I keep insisting that he has the quality to come good, he seems to be intent on disagreeing with me. Last night he did everything wrong again; defended poorly, had nothing creatively. The lad looks destroyed; confidence is a foreign concept at the moment. If Dr Steve Peters manages to sort out Dejan’s head the he’ll have another best seller on his hands to follow ‘The Chimp Paradox’. There may be a Nobel prize of some kind involved.
Which begs the question - ‘if we all know the player has no confidence then why put him on the fifth penalty?’ You could see it coming a mile off. After four immaculate spot kicks from us and five from the Turks there was only one place that Lovren’s kick was going. Into orbit. It’s a woeful attempt at power without direction and it’s not even vaguely his fault. He shouldn’t have been put into the first five. Credit to him, he took it. I feel for the lad; he’s not much loved at the moment and that’s not going to help.
The fact is though; we wouldn’t have deserved the win. The game should have been settled in the instant that we watched Demba Ba’s thunderbolt from six yards smash against the bar rather than the roof of the net. We should have been good enough. We weren’t. Besiktas were.
And that concept that we’re relieved that we’re out? The idea that it’s the Europe League and it’s a ‘Mickey Mouse’ cup and we can concentrate on the top four and the FA Cup? That concept that’s actually coming from a fair few of our own fans?
Not having it. It’s a trophy. A European trophy. Call it what you want, it’s the UEFA Cup and always will be; we have history with that cup, we should want it back. We should want to win whatever we’re in, no matter how many games that involves playing. The more games you play, the more successful you’ve been. Simple maths. And I’m sure Liverpool wanted to win it. We just weren’t good enough.
Third place and a cup. Still two things to play for. Start again on Sunday, it’s only City.