You know this by now but, in the end, it was all about Mario. Second game running, Mario made the difference. Brought some controversy in his wake but seems to be giving us the Mario we wanted; the madness tied to the football and finally tied to some actual work rate.
We’d huffed and puffed for an hour. Played fairly well but created very little in the way of real threat. Ibe had been magnificent again, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player with such acceleration from a standing start WITH the ball at his feet. The lad’s a force of nature, ridiculously strong, unbelievably fast, stupidly creative, going to be some player. He needs to learn some of the decision making required to make his skill really tell though; there are times when you wish he’d let the ball go a little sooner but that will come, he’s got plenty of time. Man of the Match by some distance.
There had been a Moreno piledriver from something like 300 yards out tipped over the bar, a Henderson free kick curled just wide. There’s a fair bit of criticism aimed at Jordan at the moment, lots of it revolving around the Mario madness moment, but he’s added an almost Gerrard-esque range of passing to his game this season and his dead ball skills are much better than he’s getting credit for.
A solid and clearly talented Besiktas team marshalled by the always impressive Slaven Bilic wasn’t letting us through though. Threatening on the break themselves and strong in defence. Helped by the fact that Sturridge was still some distance off his game, lacking the usual zip and zest that we expect, shooting when there were better options to pass to, a goal looked less and less likely. It’s obvious that we’re a young team learning how European football works.
And then Mario entered. In one of those audacious, team changing, structure altering, double substitutions that Brendan likes to pull every now and then, Mario entered the fray alongside Dejan Lovren for the once again impressive Joe Allen and the always genius but obviously exhausted Coutinho. Can holds, Henderson moves up and we have mobility.
More than mobility, we have Mario. A reborn Mario. Holding defenders off the ball, holding up, moving on, chasing down, tackling back, defending. There are flicks and tricks all over the field and the very real feeling that we’re seeing the beginning of Balotelli as a Liverpool player. The player with the most experience of European football at the club is the best player on the pitch. It’s not exactly rocket science is it?
Then he does this. He wins the ball, he flicks it out to Ibe, Ibe runs, hits the box, holds, is hit, wins the penalty. And Mario wants it. Jordan’s supposedly having it but Mario wants it. Daniel’s involved in there somewhere. There are words. In front of the Kop, three of our players are having words. On the TV, our captain is apparently talking about disrespect. This could be problematic. It’s obvious from the stands that it’s a ‘he’d better score this’ moment. Henderson looks irritated, Sturridge looks furious, body language all over the place.
The penalty is obviously immaculate. The lead is there. Something to defend in Turkey. That’s what European football’s about; getting the job done, however it needs to be done.
Brendan’s got some conversations to have this week, some egos to salve. The media’s going mental (obviously). The fans? Not even vaguely bothered. we won, Mario scored, we’ve got a bit of madness going on. It’s a start.