Liverpool beat Besiktas 1-0 at Anfield in the first leg of their UEFA Euorapa League tie which puts them slightly in the driving seat ahead of the return leg in Istanbul in a week’s time.
Mario Balotelli continued his recent good run as he netted the winning penalty in the 85th minute to give the home supporters something to cheer, the visitors having hitherto put an impregnable barrier at the back.
While victory is all that mattered on the night, the manner in which it came has put Liverpool and Balotelli in the midst of a huge ill-timed debate.
With the game headed for a barren stalemate, the impressive Jordon Ibe carried the ball into the Besiktas box and was brought down by Ramon Motta prompting the referee to point at the spot and give Liverpool a lifeline.
The common logic when a team wins a penalty is always that the penalty winner gets the opportunity to reap the benefits of his toil but that’s not the case in modern football where teams prefer to have dedicated penalty takers, Liverpool notwithstanding.
Had club captain Steven Gerrard been on the pitch, it would have been a given that he would step up. With the midfielder missing due to a hamstring injury, his second-in-command, Jordan Henderson, took the ball, perhaps carrying the manager’s instructions while Daniel Sturridge also looked interested.
However, Balotelli took the ball out of the stand-in captain’s hands eliciting an embarrassing scene as the two brawled albeit harmlessly. Even Sturridge got himself in the mix evidently in support of his England teammate but the Italian maverick wouldn’t baulk.
Credit to him, the former AC Milan man continued his hot streak from 12 yards, sending Besiktas keeper Cenk Gonen the wrong way. It’s now 27 penalties successfully converted in his last 29 takes.
On the contrary, Henderson has taken only one penalty in his Liverpool career, in a pre-season friendly at Yankee Stadium. That is not to justify the act by Balotelli which in hindsight looked liked undermining the vice-captain’s authority.
Henderson must have felt capable enough to handle the pressure that comes with converting such a crucial penalty. Secondly, there must have been a dressing room agreement that he would have the first refusal if such a situation arose, a call that must come from the top boss.
Having mentioned Balotelli’s deadly ability from 12 yards and Henderson’s lack thereof, you have to argue a case for the Italian while also questioning Brendan Rodgers’ obvious hand in handing penalty taking duties to Henderson when either Balotelli or Rickie Lambert is on the pitch. The latter two have a world-class reputation of always doing it right. Henderson would have been a gamble.
Secondly, Balotelli is under far more pressure to deliver the goals for the Merseysiders, that is what he is paid for. One goal at a time, penalty or otherwise, will give his confidence a huge boost heading into the business end of the season.
Rodgers refused to put his voice on the penalty row after the final whistle. However, Steven Gerrard, often known for connecting the hammer right on top of the nail, accused Balotelli of disrespecting the vice-captain.
"Jordan should have taken the penalty. Rules are rules. It should have been Henderson. Mario has been a bit mischievous," he told ITV Sport.
"Credit to Mario, he's scored, but it's not nice to see when footballers are arguing. I think Jordan has handled the situation very well.
In the end, victory was the winner on the night and Liverpool should move on from that slight hiccup. It’s only half time in the tie with the Reds traveling for the return leg at the historic and their fabled hunting ground, Istanbul in a week.
Hopefully, they’ll settle the game in a less controversial manner.
And That's thesteifmastertake!!