#Liverpool 1 Basel 1
Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League on a highly charged night at Anfield, as they could only manage a 1-1 draw against the Swiss Champions, Basel. It was win or bust for the Reds, so the draw condemned them to dropping into the Europa League competition, with the Swiss team instead progressing into the last sixteen of Europe’s premier competition. Basel seem to have the measure of playing English teams away from home, having beaten Chelsea, drawn with Manchester United, Spurs and now Liverpool in recent seasons.
In a largely lacklustre first-half for the home side with the noisy crowd doing their best to will them on to another historic result, Liverpool looked strangely disjointed and lacking in penetration, and it was the away side who showed the greater urgency and quality. It was in no way unexpected when a neat combination between Fabian Frei and Luca Zuffi ended with Frei drilling the ball beyond Simon Mignolet to put Basel ahead inside the first half-hour. Indeed they could consider themselves fortunate to only be a goal behind at the break, with their guests guilty of missing other presentable chances.
Memories of their recovery from a similar situation ten years prior flooded back for the diehard fans, but there was to be no Olympiakos-esque come back this time. A double substitution at half-time included the introduction of Lazar Markovic, who had clearly been instructed to run at the opposition’s defence. That he did for all of fifteen minutes before he seemed to be unjustly red carded for catching Behrang Safari in the face with a flailing hand. Thirty minutes remaining, a man down and a mountain to climb for the Reds!
There was renewed hope with nine minutes to go when their captain Steven Gerrard (who else) scored yet another trademark free-kick from 20 yards. Finally the home side seemed to awake from their stupor and demonstrate the urgency that had been lacking for much of the game. Jordan Henderson’s deflected header demanded an athletic save from keeper Tomas Vaclik, with Martin Skrtel just off target with his flick minutes later and then Henderson again bringing out another stop from Vaclik. Too little, too late and the Swiss held on for their precious point.
In truth it has been a wholly disappointing European campaign throughout for last season’s Premier League runners-up, ever since the far from convincing sole victory at home to Ludogorets at the start. The away loss to Basel was always likely to be decisive in the long run, but the real worry to many fans was the tame surrender to the Spanish giants Real Madrid, especially in the home tie. A three nil loss at Anfield was hard enough to stomach, but it was the manner in which they seemed unable to compete with the Galacticos that will stay longest in the memory. Shorn of their main attacking threats from last season, with Daniel Sturridge sidelined for most of their matches so far and the livewire Luis Suarez now a feature for Barcelona instead, they have been forced to turn elsewhere for salvation but look to have found few crumbs of comfort. Mario Balotelli has looked an inadequate replacement and Rickie Lambert will always give of his best, but seems a few years beyond his best days. The other (expensive) newcomers look to need more time and experience at this level, with Emre Can, Markovic, Dejan Lovren and even Adam Lallana only showing all too brief glimpses of their undoubted talent.
The qualifying group has developed a lopsided look to it throughout with Real Madrid sailing through unscathed, winning all of their matches and in doing so have also won nineteen successive games (a Spanish record). Their serene 4-0 defeat of Ludogorets yesterday was much in keeping with the previous five ties, comfortable throughout thanks to strikes from Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and the two Alvaros, Arbeloa and Medran. There was even a first-half sending off for the away side’s Marcelinho to ease their passage to another expected victory.
Spare a thought for the Merseysiders’ talisman Gerrard as he may just have played his last match at Europe’s top table. With his contract negotiations still up in the air, this might tip the balance towards a fresh start elsewhere unless Liverpool can somehow claim the place reserved in next season’s Champions League for the Europa League winners. That seems an extremely tall order on this form, but the other option of a top four league position also seems beyond them at present. #FootballBoth Gerrard and Reds’ boss Brendan Rodgers admitted that their team had simply not been good enough to qualify when asked afterwards and Rodgers must now be wondering whether the board will continue to place faith in his methods and provide him with further funds for the January transfer window. Upcoming league matches against Manchester United and Arsenal, and the quarter final of the Capital One Cup at Bournemouth may well dictate how the next pages of Liverpool’s history map out.