Liverpool 1Basel 1

Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League ona highly charged night at Anfield, as they could only manage a 1-1 draw againstthe Swiss Champions, Basel. It was win or bust for the Reds, so the drawcondemned them to dropping into the Europa League competition, with the Swissteam instead progressing into the last sixteen of Europe’s premier competition.Basel seem to have the measure of playing English teams away from home, havingbeaten Chelsea, drawn with Manchester United, Spurs and now Liverpool in recentseasons.

In a largely lacklustre first-half for the home sidewith the noisy crowd doing their best to will them on to another historicresult, Liverpool looked strangely disjointed and lacking in penetration, andit was the away side who showed the greater urgency and quality. It was in noway unexpected when a neat combination between Fabian Frei and Luca Zuffi endedwith Frei drilling the ball beyond Simon Mignolet to put Basel ahead inside thefirst half-hour. Indeed they could consider themselves fortunate to only be agoal behind at the break, with their guests guilty of missing other presentablechances.

Memories of their recovery from a similarsituation ten years prior flooded back for the diehard fans, but there was tobe no Olympiakos-esque come back this time. A double substitution at half-timeincluded the introduction of Lazar Markovic, who had clearly been instructed torun at the opposition’s defence. That he did for all of fifteen minutes beforehe seemed to be unjustly red carded for catching Behrang Safari in the facewith a flailing hand. Thirty minutes remaining, a man down and a mountain toclimb for the Reds!

There was renewed hope with nine minutes to gowhen their captain Steven Gerrard (who else) scored yet another trademarkfree-kick from 20 yards. Finally the home side seemed to awake from theirstupor and demonstrate the urgency that had been lacking for much of the game.Jordan Henderson’s deflected header demanded an athletic save from keeper TomasVaclik, with Martin Skrtel just off target with his flick minutes later andthen Henderson again bringing out another stop from Vaclik. Too little, toolate and the Swiss held on for their precious point.

In truth it has been a wholly disappointing Europeancampaign throughout for last season’s Premier League runners-up, ever since thefar from convincing sole victory at home to Ludogorets at the start. The awayloss to Basel was always likely to be decisive in the long run, but the realworry 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 tostomach, but it was the manner in which they seemed unable to compete with theGalacticos that will stay longest in the memory.

Shorn of their main attackingthreats from last season, with Daniel Sturridge sidelined for most of theirmatches so far and the livewire Luis Suarez now a feature for Barcelonainstead, they have been forced to turn elsewhere for salvation but look to havefound few crumbs of comfort. Mario Balotelli has looked an inadequate replacementand Rickie Lambert will always give of his best, but seems a few years beyondhis best days. The other (expensive) newcomers look to need more time andexperience at this level, with Emre Can, Markovic, Dejan Lovren and even AdamLallana only showing all too brief glimpses of their undoubted talent.

The qualifying group has developed a lopsidedlook to it throughout with Real Madrid sailing through unscathed, winning allof their matches and in doing so have also won nineteen successive games (aSpanish record). Their serene 4-0 defeat of Ludogorets yesterday was much inkeeping with the previous five ties, comfortable throughout thanks to strikesfrom Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and the two Alvaros, Arbeloa and Medran. Therewas even a first-half sending off for the away side’s Marcelinho to ease theirpassage to another expected victory.

Spare a thought for the Merseysiders’ talismanGerrard as he may just have played his last match at Europe’s top table. Withhis contract negotiations still up in the air, this might tip the balancetowards a fresh start elsewhere unless Liverpool can somehow claim the placereserved in next season’s Champions League for the Europa League winners. Thatseems an extremely tall order on this form, but the other option of a top fourleague position also seems beyond them at present.

Both Gerrard and Reds’ boss Brendan Rodgers admitted that their team hadsimply not been good enough to qualify when asked afterwards and Rodgers must nowbe wondering whether the board will continue to place faith in his methods andprovide him with further funds for the January transfer window. Upcoming leaguematches against Manchester United and Arsenal, and the quarter final of the CapitalOne Cup at Bournemouth may well dictate how the next pages of Liverpool’shistory map out.
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