Liverpool 1 Besiktas 0 (Half-time 0-0)

Brendan Rodgers' men ground out a slender advantage to take into the away leg in Turkey in their Europa League round of 32 match, but their vocal fans had to wait until the last five minutes before they could celebrate a goal for the home side. As in the recent Spurs' game in the Premier League, it was to be super-sub super Mario Balotelli who came to their rescue, not only scoring the decisive penalty, but also showing some neat touches after his arrival on the Anfield pitch on the hour mark. Their play other than that on another emotionally charged European evening on Merseyside, was oddly disjointed for the main part, as Besiktas demonstrated that they will not be pushovers come the return leg.

The disruption of Thursday - Sunday Football as participation in the Europa League causes, was never high on Liverpool's agenda this season, as they sought to establish themselves back in the higher echelons of European football in the Champions League. That all changed with instant elimination from the competition at the group stage, as Basel instead went through, and the Reds were doubly penalised in the wake of the recent Lazar Markovic four-game ban for his sending off. Rodgers is however coming to terms with the facts as they stand, so is taking the new challenge as an opportunity to regain that Champions League spot next term if he can, should they win the final.

After flashes of the improved form that the home side have shown in recent months on their mainly unbeaten run, Liverpool still found themselves all-square against the alleged 'poor travellers' from Turkey entering the final stages last night.

Then as the 85th minute was reached, they were given a lifeline as the referee pointed to the penalty spot. What followed was an odd battle for the ball between Mario Balotelli, Daniel Sturridge and skipper Jordan Henderson, as the hosts seemed to be unsure who should take the spot kick. The enigmatic Italian finally seemed to hold sway, sporting a flamboyant new moustache to match his recent cavalier approach, with Henderson clearly still not in agreement with the choice as he walked away.

Thankfully for Balotelli and Liverpool's sake, he was justified in his confidence and struck the ball into the net after a typically European 'stutter' in his run up. It had similarities with an incident across the city at Everton, where Kevin Mirallas took the ball away from usual penalty taker Leighton Baines, although his subsequent miss was not well received by the Toffees in that game.

Henderson quickly sought to diffuse the matter with a congratulatory handshake afterwards, but it did raise the issue of who takes the penalties when the legendary Steven Gerrard is no longer available (he was watching from the commentary box last night).

The Reds created the bulk of the chances, without really suggesting that they would cut through their opponents' defence at will. Sturridge showed trickery on the by-line to create a shooting chance from a tight angle early on, when the ball across the box may have been a slightly better option. Alberto Moreno fired in a screamer from distance that required a touch over the bar from the keeper. Adam Lallana should maybe have at least hit the target from close range after a rebound seemingly fell perfectly for him in the area in the second-half.

Besiktas for their part offered glimpses of the danger that they are likely to show in the second leg, with Demba Ba causing tremors in the Reds' defence yet again as he bore down on goal in the first-half, only for Simon Mignolet to make a fine save.

Rodgers will be thankful for the goal and a vital clean sheet, knowing that an away goal now in Turkey could prove valuable and would most likely take them through to the next round. He also learned that the recently impressive Jordon Ibe is not overawed by European competition, as he again demonstrated moments of incisive play down the right and when drifting inside. The Reds certainly have the ability to break the current Turkish Super Lig leaders down in Istanbul, but should be wary of overplaying too much, as could have been argued that they did at times yesterday.