Liverpool 1 (Balotelli (p) 85’)
Mario Balotelli’s coolly converted penalty gave Liverpool a narrow win against Besiktas in the first leg of their Europa League last 32 tie at Anfield.
Teenage winger Jordon Ibe was the creator, with his run forcefully ended in the box by Ramon Motta just before the byline.
Demba Ba had spurned a glorious first-half opportunity for an away goal but shot too close to a sprawling Simon Mignolet when clean through.
Liverpool had struggled to invent good attacking situations throughout the game and were grateful to the newly-contracted Ibe, who was a rare creative influence in an even game.
Despite the Liverpool starting XI shorn of Steven Gerrard through injury and with Raheem Sterling dropped to the bench, the home side began quickly with a trademark Ibe run allowing Daniel Sturridge to fashion a shot after some byline trickery.
Liverpool had dominated the opening 15 minutes without adding to Sturridge’s opportunity, but it was Besiktas who supplied the game’s next major chance when captain Veli Kavlak’s powerful header flew just wide of Mignolet’s left-hand post.
After offering little in attack, Besiktas began to grow into the game with the slippery Gökhan Töre their best outlet on the right with manager Slaven Bilic’s counter-attacking tactics clear to see.
The Turkish side then wasted a massive chance when ex-Chelsea striker Ba raced clear after a slick one-two with Olcay Sahan, but the Senegalese hitman failed to beat Mignolet in a situation similar to the one where he buried Liverpool’s title hopes last season following Gerrard’s infamous slip.
Brendan Rodgers’ side responded before the break with a fierce 40-yard drive from Alberto Moreno before Jordan Henderson saw a free-kick curl just wide of goal with Besiktas keeper Cenk Gönen motionless.
The Reds continued their momentum into the second half and nearly panicked the visitors into conceding when Gönen flapped at a Henderson cross, only for Adam Lallana to spoon wastefully into The Kop from three yards.
With Besiktas resolute in defence, Rodgers thrust Balotelli into the action at the expense of Joe Allen, before introducing Dejan Lovren in a move which allowed Emre Can to occupy his preferred midfield role.
Lovren then missed the target with a looping header and, with chances at a premium, Rodgers sent Sterling on for the quiet Lallana in a bid to secure a precious advantage for the second leg in Turkey.
Yet it was Ibe, who had drifted through the second half, who provided the attacking inspiration as Liverpool secured a late winner.
Ibe’s superb run drew a rash foul from Motta inside the area and the ice cool Balotelli slotted home the penalty with just five minutes remaining.
Besiktas attempted to find an equaliser but never troubled Liverpool as the hosts held on to take a slender advantage to the Ataturk Stadium next week.
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