How could two evenings in Istanbul conceivably provide greater contrasts? The one Liverpool fans will always remember saw them paint the place red and roar their side on to improbable glory. But last night, the Turkish fans created the cauldron and left Liverpool's European campaign hanging by a thread.
The final stages here bore all the hallmarks of that famous summer's night in 2005. Two-nil down, Liverpool pulled a goal back through the talismanic Steven Gerrard, and Peter Crouch proved what his manager had been missing by laying on the header which set up a thrilling finale. Liverpool threw everything into the effort. But it was not to be. A goal on the counter-attack from the Brazilian striker Bobo, a perennial threat, had proved decisive.
Rafael Benitez looked as grim last night as he has at any stage of Liverpool's stuttering first quarter of the season. "The performance was OK," he said. But with Arsenal and Manchester United's results in Europe this week revealing just how much they are hitting their stride, not bad is not good enough. There was creativity down the left flank from Ryan Babel last night and the intensity of a Turkish crowd fired up Gerrard in the way it always does. Yet the creative vision – a moment of inspiration – was lacking. The non-appearance of substitute Xabi Alonso, one player who does have the touch to unlock a game, was puzzling since he was deemed fit enough to make the bench. With Arsenal in Liverpool three days from now, his return to action cannot come soon enough.
Benitez had acknowledged that Besiktas could spring a surprise. But what he perhaps had not banked on was the intensity of a crowd whose noise at times surpassed even the legendary Anfield volume in Liverpool's Champions League semi final win over Chelsea in 2005. Besiktas' highly-politicised Carsi fan group was even more passionate than usual after a lone trumpeter's anthem before kick-off in memory of the Turkish soldiers killed in a terrorist attack at the weekend.
This combination of factors combined to catch out Liverpool early on, precisely when they were at their most creative. Benitez's side were moving the ball with a composure utterly lacking in the defeat to Marseilles at Anfield and Andrei Voronin chested a John Arne Riise ball assuredly into the path of Babel whose shot after a 15-yard run was well saved. The interchanges between both Voronin and Jermaine Pennant, on the right, and Dirk Kuyt and Babel on the left, looked promising.
Then came another of the defensive calamities which have characterised Liverpool's travails in Europe and gave Besiktas the lead on 13 minutes. The creator was Bobo, who ran free down the right and cut in towards Jamie Carragher, whose fine attempted tackle only saw the ball ricochet off Javier Mascherano to Serdar Ozkan, the young midfielder Besiktas manager describes as "the indispensable one." His shot deflected in off Sami Hyypia who, after two own-goals in as many games, will be hoping that is his quota settled for the season.
It should only have been a setback for a Liverpool side who looked comfortably the more creative against a home defence which had a vulnerability about it. Twice in the passage of the play after the goal, Liverpool might have equalised. Gerrard put a ball into the path of Riise, whose shot was touched over. Then Kuyt sent Gerrard through, only for his shot to be palmed away by keeper Hakan Arikan, who was superb all night. But Liverpool could not build on their evident superiority and, as the atmosphere in the stadium intensified, passes frequently began to go astray – to the undisguised frustration of Kuyt, in particular. The delivery from Steve Finnan left a little to be desired and with the absence of a playmaker, the route to goal became difficult for Liverpool.
Pennant also began to run out of ideas, prompting Benitez to remove him after a little short of an hour and deploy Yossi Banayoun down the right flank. But Babel looked more energised and creative than anyone in the Liverpool midfield, by some distance. It was his good work down the right which led to a link-up with Gerrard via Voronin but the Liverpool captain fired wide. Another chance fell to Gerrard, who ran through on goal after a neat exchange with Benayoun but Arikan – showing none of the goalkeeping frailties which have bedevilled Besiktas this season – smothered again.
The young Brazilian Lucas Leiva was thrown on – but within minutes was calamitously dispossessed on the edge of his own area by Koray Avci, whose pass to Bobo should have put the game beyond Liverpool's reach. He made no mistake on 80 minutes when he was sent through on goal and slid the ball past Jose Reina.
A repeat of the 2005 heroics genuinely seemed to be on the cards after Crouch arrived but did not materialise. Gerrard says the Uefa Cup is "nothing special, an ugly kid brother compared to the handsome Champions League."
He might have to get used to the idea.
Besiktas (4-5-1): Arikan; Tandogan, Zan, Toraman, Uzulmez; Ozkan, Kurtulus (Avci, 41), Cisse, Tello, Delgado (Higuain, 62); Bobo (Diatta, 86). Substitutes not used: Ozmen, Yozgatli, Nobre, Ricardinho.
Liverpool (4-4-1-1): Reina; Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia (Crouch, 83), Riise; Pennant (Benayoun, 59), Gerrard, Mascherano (Lucas, 76), Babel; Kuyt; Voronin. Substitutes not used: Itandje (gk), Alonso, Sissoko, Hobbs.
Referee: C Larsen (Denmark).
Results: Marseilles 2 Besiktas 0; Porto 1 Liverpool 1; Besiktas 0 Porto 1; Liverpool 0 Marseilles 1; Besiktas 2 Liverpool 1; Marseilles 1 Porto1.
Fixtures: 6 Nov: Liverpool v Besiktas; Porto v Marseilles. 28 Nov: Besiktas v Marseilles; Liverpool v Porto. 11 Dec: Marseilles v Liverpool; Porto v Besiktas.Reuse content