Liverpool beat Besiktas in the first leg of the Round of 32 in the Europa League, thanks to substitute Mario Balotelli’s late penalty, after they got frustrated in their attempts to break down the resilient visitors all night. It was youngster Jordan Ibe who had troubled the Turkish side all night with his pace and direct running eventually getting upended inside the box. Despite a slight tussle between the designated spot kick taker Jordan Henderson and the eager Balotelli, it was the Italian who took responsibility before firing Liverpool into the lead.
Here are some of the key observations from the match.
Mario Balotelli’s renaissance continues
The 24-year-old scored his fourth goal for Liverpool, all in different competitions, and his second in three matches. He has come as a substitute in the last three games and engineered a turnaround in all of those appearances. He netted the winner against Spurs before winning and taking the freekick against Palace that led to the Adam Lallana’s winner.
On Thursday night, Daniel Sturridge was getting frustrated like in the FA Cup game and the Italian’s introduction gave Liverpool a different dimension. He dropped off in between the lines and was superb with his movement and hold-up play. Using his strength and first touch, he brought others into the game and can prove to be a handful when he has his heart set on it.
Demba Ba fails to haunt Liverpool on his return to Anfield
Even though Brendan Rodgers had denied the fact that Ba would bring back bad memories of Liverpool losing the title when he scored ‘that’ goal, there was always a sense of foreboding that the striker who has been in such lethal form would score on his return to Anfield. And he did get a glorious opportunity when he ran through on goal as he had done back in April last year only to be denied by a smart save from Simon Mignolet. Ironically, this was perhaps the only match at Anfield this season when his name wasn’t sung to mock Steven Gerrard, as has become the norm for any English team visiting Anfield.
Jordan Ibe has a great future
Jordon Ibe is only 19. He is set to be offered a new five-year contract and it is easy to see why. The former Wycombe Wanderer’s player looks almost as composed and mature as Raheem Sterling did at his age, and if he keeps playing the way he has done in his three full starts this season, there is reason to believe that Ibe is set for a great career.
He completed an astonishing 10 dribbles on the night against Besiktas, more than any other player has in the Europa League this season. His self assured manner and brilliant trickery caused Besiktas problems down their left hand side all night and ultimately resulted in the 19-year-old getting fouled for the penalty with five minutes remaining. Ibe has shown maturity and confidence far beyond his age and has already become one of the most exciting youth players in the Premier League at the moment.
Daniel Sturridge still some way off complete sharpness
The 25-year-old finally made his European debut for Liverpool but it was a night to forget if his individual performance is to be assessed. He did fashion a chance for himself in the opening minutes of the match though the angle was so narrow, he could only hit it straight at goalkeeper Cenk Gonen. Thereafter, Sturridge lacked his imaginative touches and hold-up play which make him such a complete striker for Liverpool to have. He lost the ball on a few occasions, and even though the service to him wasn’t great all night, he still will need sometime before returning to the sharp striker he is known to be. However, it is quite understandable that after five months out, Sturridge will need a few more weeks to come close to the levels which saw him bag 20+ goals last season. His finishing has been very clinical to be fair — West Ham from a narrow angle, and a sweet first time volley against Palace — but the overall game play will improve, but only gradually.