Defending with certain effectiveness during 83 minutes, Slaven Bilic’s Beşiktaş could have brought back something from Anfield. After having yielded on a late penalty, Turkish side returns to Istanbul with a defeat, without scoring the precious away goal. Despite Besiktas’s balance having been made precarious due to LFC’s high tempo, there’s still room for hope.
Bilic’s defensive system
Opposed to a team in full form, and which appreciably rectified its situation since its Champions League dismissal (16 games without a loose), Slaven Bilic’s squad came to Anfield with the ambition of defending well. However, Turk side have applied heavy pressing to Brendan Rodgers’ 3-4-3. With a defensive system based on tight markings, the Black Eagles tried to cut Liverpool’s transmissions from the defenders, with a maximum of players around the ball carrier.
Even thouh Liverpool defenders enjoyed a relative freedom – only really facing Demba Ba, who was satisfied to isolate Skrtel (3 against 1) – the istanbulite midfield and defense were organized in order to reduce the offensive explosiveness of Liverpool.
With one spare defensive player (2 against 1 against Sturridge) and a “midfield libero” in the middle (Kavlak, who had to follow Liverpool’s offensive players when they dropped back), Bilic has ensured a measure of security.
One of the difficulties for the Turks was to read the rather original offensive system of Liverpool (3-4-2-1), which does not include nor real wingers (Coutinho and Lallana having relatively axial activity), nor real wingbacks (Ibe and Moreno being more than inclined to create the danger by their ability to take on).
According to the pressing schema above, Kurtuluş had to mark Coutinho and Gökhan had to take charge of Moreno on the right side of the Turkish defense. When the Brazilian drifted inside, markings had to be switched intelligently for not offering freedom to any two Scouser talent. The situation was the same on the other side with Ramon Motta and Olcay Sahan facing Lallana and Ibe.
The markings established by Bilic evolved according to the position of the ball and the Liverpool players. When the ball went to Sakho or Emre Can; Sosa and Olcay sprang toward the ball holder, than the markings were reorganized so that no pass line would be opened .
Struggling against switching plays
With such density around the ball, Turks have wavered when Liverpool manage to “break” their pressing by switching play, through the accuracy and quickness of execution of Allen and Henderson. Once Ibe or Moreno got served on the wings, a large space was offered in the back of Ramon Motta and Kurtuluş. The Colombian wingback has gone trough a very complicated evening facing Jordon Ibe. He will be suspended for the 2nd leg, just as Ersan Gülüm, who has been excellent in the center of the defense, despite being part of a painful vine against Coutinho.
Regardless of these moments of fragility, with 2 spare players at the back (theoretically 1 central defender and Kavlak), Sturridge’s quality was well contained by the duo Ersan – Pablo Franco. Even though too many free kicks were granted despite constant situations of numerical superiority.
Ball movement will have to be safe
Thought Liverpool held the ball most of the time during this first round (59%), Reds were not particularly eager to get it back, and have offered their visitors a relative freedom in its use. Without the ball, Brendan Rodgers’ squad organized in 541, with Ibe and Moreno becoming wingbacks as Coutinho and Lallana surrounded Allen and Henderson behind Sturridge.
Danger was also created on red counter-attacks, after istanbulites positional play sequences. That said, there still, the numerical superiority have never really been created by the english side, even thought the take-on ability of players such as Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho, Ibe and Moreno can be scary. This situation (BJK with the ball) should happen more often in the 2nd leg, and demands extreme caution when using the ball laterally.
With the English side managing to keep a clean sheet at home, the safety of the ball movement of Beşiktaş will be a key for the second leg on Thursday. Any missed pass could leave the opposing dribbling quality to express itself, as Ersan will be suspended in the center of the pitch.
The decisive penalty came paradoxically after a quieter second half, from a quick attack, in which we find back the space in the back of Ramon Motta, which will be (as a symbol) pushed to the fault by Ibe.
Keep the opportunity alive
Inevitably, the first condition for qualifying for the Beşiktaş will be a clean sheet: in order to get access to extra-time or, to the direct qualification. Otherwise, Bilic’s men should score 3 times. Despite the absence of Ersan, they have reasons to have hope.
With a defensive system that has worked well on last thursday, Turks could have brought something out of this perilous trip. When Liverpool truly involved 7 players in the positional attack, Demba Ba has had a huge opportunity to score.
In order to not jeopardize their chances to qualify, Besiktas need to defend well and attack without unnecessary risk at the time to use the ball. Scoring a goal is far from an unrealistic ambition. The power of percussion of Liverpool was a little exhausted in the second half, and perhaps, time will play against the Englishmen if they fail to quickly score in Istanbul.