Liverpool faced a simple proposition Tuesday: beat Basel and stay in the UEFA Champions League. Liverpool didn’t win against its Swiss opponent, and the reason why is simpler than the proposition itself.
Liverpool and Basel played to a 1-1 draw at Anfield in its final game of the Champions League group stage. Liverpool picked up a point, but it wasn’t enough to propel it over Basel into second place in Group B. The Reds’ Champions League campaign ends in disappointment at the first hurdle, and they now must face the fact that they failed to hit one of their primary targets for the 2014-15 season.
Liverpool took its fans on an emotional roller-coaster Tuesday, as the sense of optimism so prevalent during the build-up to the game gave way to despair 25 minutes into the first half.
Basel already had absorbed Liverpool’s early pressure and seized the initiative when Fabian Frei and Luca Zuffi combined in the attacking third of the field. Liverpool’s defense was scrambling as Frei and Zuffi worked a neat one-two, and the former fired the latter’s lay-off pass into the bottom corner of Liverpool’s goal.
Frei’s strike sunk Liverpool deeper and deeper, as the prospect of elimination from the Champions League grew increasingly likely with each kick of the ball and tick of the clock. As has been the case far too often this season, Liverpool didn’t play with the fluency or urgency that many came to expect, and it was fortunate not to trail by more than one goal at halftime.
Manager Brendan Rodgers made two substitutions during the interval in an effort to turbo-charge Liverpool’s performance in the second half, and it briefly looked like it might work. That is, until disaster struck in the 60th minute when the referee controversially dismissed Lazar Markovic for lightly slapping Behrang Safari with his flailing arm.
Markovic’s red card reduced Liverpool to 10 men, but you’d never know that judging by the Reds’ performance in the last 30 minutes. Liverpool had two good scoring chances and a half-hearted penalty appeal before Steven Gerrard buried a free kick, which gave Liverpool a lifeline and turned Anfield into the most dramatic of settings.
The Reds attacked with abandon as their fans roared them on. They created four good chances in the final 10 minutes, but it ultimately would be Basel’s night of triumph.
Liverpool simply wasn’t good enough against Basel or any other opponent over the course of its six-game European adventure. Rodgers and Gerrard agree in this brutally honest assessment. The Reds lacked authority and composure in defense. Their passing tempo was too slow and their finish not clinical enough to succeed in European soccer’s elite level.
We’ll never know how things would have been different if all of Liverpool’s players, particularly Daniel Sturridge, had been available Tuesday or over the last three months. Time will tell how quickly the Reds return to the Champions League. For now, the Reds must accept a place in the UEFA Europa League and its accompanying trials. They also must live with the regret of this bitter cup of Swiss miss.
Photo via LiverpoolFC.com