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Friday 15 December 2017

Balotelli spot on to give Reds a Turkish delight

Substitute Mario Balotelli (pictured) continued his penchant for late interventions with an 85th-minute penalty to give Liverpool a slender advantage to take to Istanbul in the last 32 of the Europa League.

Nine days ago he came off the bench at Anfield to score a crucial winner against Tottenham and did the same against Besiktas, this time at the Kop end after taking the ball away from team-mates Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge to take the spot-kick.

His goal makes the trip to Turkey next week less uncomfortable than it was looking, although the tie is far from over and they were defeated on their last visit there in the Champions League in 2007. Progress, however small, in Europe is being made as Balotelli's goal avoided setting a new club record of six matches without victory. That came about mainly because of Liverpool's failure to get through the group stages of the Champions League after a number of laboured performances.

There was an assumption dropping down to the second tier competition, with form having improved and Sturridge now fit, would offer some respite.

But Turkish Super Lig leaders Besiktas never looked likely of succumbing to a repeat of their 8-0 battering on this ground in 2007 - still the worst defeat in Champions League history - with a compact and committed defensive performance. A return to the Ataturk Stadium, scene of their famous Champions League final victory in 2005, now awaits but Rodgers will be hoping his side do not need the sort of heroics shown against AC Milan to reach the last 16.

liverpool 1 Besiktas 0

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