Liverpool 1-0 Besiktas: Four things we learnt

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Mario Balotelli's late penalty gave Liverpool a 1-0 victory against Besiktas in the Europa League at Anfield.

In a game that left the Reds frustrated in front of goal at times, Jordan Ibe finally made the breakthrough when he was fouled inside the box by Ramon Motta.

Jordan Henderson looked to want to take the penalty as did Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge and, after a lengthy dispute it, was the Italian who sent Cenk Gonen the wrong way.

In a game that gives Liverpool a slim lead going into next weekend's second leg in Istanbul, there were several things we learnt.

Mario Balotelli is a penalty expert

Whereas the game should have been hailed as a solid victory for Liverpool against a resilient Besiktas who top the Turkish Super League, the game was riddled with controversy.

As we found out after the game by injured captain Steven Gerrard, it was Henderson who was assigned to take spot-kicks in the absence of the 34-year-old.

Henderson took his manager's orders and stepped up to take the penalty however he found himself surround by Balotelli and Sturridge who were desperate to get themselves on the score-sheet.  

Although the stand-in Liverpool skipper was given the duty of taking penalties, every Kopite wanted Balotelli to step up to the plate. The former Inter Milan striker's record from the 12-yard spot speaks for itself and he has missed just two throughout his career.

It was a massive situation for Liverpool as a team - if the spot-kick was scored they travelled to Istanbul next week with a slim but precious lead.

Henderson may be the future captain at Anfield but he has not experienced situations like that before and nobody could quite say how he would cope under the pressure of the Kop glaring down at him.

In contrast, Balotelli has been there, done that. He has scored vital penalties for former club's and for Italy - his penalty against England in the European Championships in 2012 being the highlight.

The 24-year-old was correct in accepting the authority and slotted his penalty home superbly. He waited and waited for Gonen to make the first move and easily placed his effort the other side to wrap the win up for the Reds.

In the absence of Gerrard, it should be Balotelli on penalties - it would be difficult to find a football fan who would have rather see Henderson take them.

Steven Gerrard slipped up

One pet hate of mine is when footballers sit in the punditry box when their own team is playing.

Gerrard covered Liverpool's tie in the  ITV studio and it was completely wrong, something that should never have even contemplated his mind. He should have been in the dressing room beforehand speaking to his team-mates, keeping them focused and concentrated on the situation ahead.

Instead, he was covering the game for ITV Sport, earning needless money that will be a pittance compared to his weekly wage.

After the game, the former England captain gave his opinion on the controversial penalty incident and said that Balotelli disrespected Henderson by taking the penalty.

Of course, Gerrard is entitled to opinion, more so than any of the media or the fans, however those things are to be kept quiet and in the dressing room.

If the Huyton-native really felt strongly about the incident, he should have waited until his T.V. service's were over and had a quiet word with the Italian.

Gerrard knows that those type of statements attract the wrong sort of attention and the rumours will soon come to light that there a problem in the Anfield dressing room. It is likely untrue, however these false claims can hurt players and bring unnecessary problems.

Jordan Ibe continue to shine

In a game that left Liverpool frustrated for large periods of the game, it was Ibe who looked to threaten throughout.

His pace is unplayable at times and he put in a fantastic effort once again since returning from his loan spell at Derby County.

The 19-year-old was a constant threat on the right-wing and always looked to attack with purpose from the first to the final whistle. Ibe linked well with Sturridge as the two desperately searched for the opener for much of the game.

The former Wycombe Wanders man produced a fantastic solo effort to win his side a penalty, beating one Besiktas defender and then another before being brought down.

As each game passes, Ibe grows in confidence and looks more and more like he have a huge future at Anfield.

Europa League will be tough

Brendan Rodgers has stated on several occasions how desperate he is end the season with a piece of silverware.

Liverpool just missed out on the Capital One Cup when narrowly beaten by Chelsea in the semi-finals and look in an excellent position to clinch the FA Cup as they meet Championship side Blackburn Rovers in the last eight.

Rodgers wouldn't mind having a good go at the Europa League either, however it will be a difficult task to complete.

Besiktas showed that the competition is competitive, extremely competitive in fact. The Turkish side were well organised and had their share of chances and Istanbul will be no simple task for the Reds next week.

That clash comes after a gruelling away game against high-flying Southampton in what is a must-win if Liverpool are to finish in the top-four of the Premier League this term.

The Europa League has some excellent teams within it's ranks this term including Napoli, Ajax and AS Roma have like Liverpool have dropped down from the Champions League.

It was vital Rodgers' men did not concede on Thursday evening and give Besiktas an away-goal that would have allowed them to sit and defend in Turkey.

Instead, the Reds can abandon being the aggressor next week and instead bury men behind the ball and protect their one goal lead.

That is easier said than done and if Liverpool are to reach the next round the likelihood is that they will once again meet an opponent who force the Merseyside club to be at their best.

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