Liverpool continue to miss opportunities to lessen the burden of struggle and slide deeper into a hole that now can only be described as a troubling trend.
A poor defense, poor attack, poor performance leaves Liverpool 0-1 losers to FC Basel in Switzerland.
A victory at Saint Jakob-Park would have offered Liverpool some serious breathing room in their Champions League group, while building confidence, and relieve mounting pressure on the side. Yet, the Reds continued to flounder, lacking creativity, threat, and pace, relying far too much on Sterling and playing far too predictably.
Within the first minute of the match, Liverpool surrendered the first of eight corner kicks, rendering flashbacks of past weeks. However, a quick and steady clearance helped fuel a counter attack sequence that began with Mario Balotelli pulling a long forward pass down and finding Javier Manquillo racing down the right flank, getting behind the defense, and firing a low, hard cross to Raheem Sterling. Only after Sterling slotted home his own rebound off left post was it clear that he was offside.
The match came to a standstill a few minutes later as Behrang Safari injured himself and had to be substituted. The stoppage did Liverpool no favors, blunting any thought the Reds might mount an early, sustained blitz. Derlis Gonzalez replaced Safari, and Basel switched to three at the back, with Gonzalez operating in the midfield. Basel would come to dominate the midfield
In the 13th minute, Simon Mignolet made a poor decision to pass weakly, straight up the middle to a centrally located Gerrard, who was immediately pressured and lost the ball, which ended up at the feet of Streller who slid wide of the central defense for a half chance that was smothered for a corner. The combination of bad decision making and weak execution would be a theme for the evening.
For much of the first half, Basel laid tracks down the right side continually turning Jose Enrique inside out before faltering in the final third. The frequency and ease with which Basel was able to work the ball down that flank highlighted just how exposed Liverpool’s defense has looked of late.
Apart from a corner in the 43rd minute that Dejan Lovren nodded down to the turf, where it bounced soft and high to Basel keeper Tomáš Vaclík, Liverpool’s attack was lackluster and repeatedly offside.
After the break, it was much the same until the 51st minute. Basel’s Ahmed Hamoudi found acres of space on left, angled into the penalty area, and drove a hard strike to the near post, forcing a strong Mignolet save.
A minute later, Liverpool surrendered an easy goal from another disastrous defending display on a set piece. Martin Skrtel failed to clear a Basel corner, somehow getting the back of his head on it and sending it down and on goal. Mignolet awkwardly swiped it right into the path of Basel’s captain, Marco Streller, who pounced and roofed the ball into the net.
Not until the 61st minute did Liverpool really look like equalizing. Balotelli blistered a swerving free kick that handcuffed Vaclick and rebounded to Lazar Markovic whose shot deflected out fro a corner.
At the 70 minute mark Adam Lallana replaced Phillippe Coutinho. Five minutes later, Liverpool created another half chance, hesitations and all, when Balotelli found Lallana breaking inside, who slotted the ball to a free Sterling in the penalty area. Sterling , however, was smothered before he could even release a shot on goal. It was arguably the Redmens’ best chance of the night and it was snuffed before it provided any real test.
Away from home in the Champions League, Liverpool were punished for another poor performance. Basel was prepared and positive enough to make Liverpool pay. From that point, defending Liverpool’s impotent attack remained far too easy and the Swiss champions leapfrogged the visitors in the Group B table.
Heading back to England for league play, Liverpool looks lost, lacking identity, intensity, and inventiveness. While the return of injured players will likely help, it remains to be seen if they will provide the kinds of solutions needed for this sputtering side. The away win at Spurs looks more and more like an anomaly, as this squad is clearly nothing close to last year’s team.