Liverpool will have to pick themselves up quickly from their Merseyside derby disappointment when they visit Swiss champions Basel on Wednesday. A victory would go a long way toward Liverpool securing their place in the Champions League knockout phase in their first season back in the competition in five years. It would also be a significant fillip on the back of a disappointing start to the campaign that continued with Phil Jagielka’s spectacular late, late equalizer to deny Liverpool victory over local rivals Everton at Anfield.
The result means Liverpool have taken just seven points from their opening six matches in the Premier League, leaving last season’s runners-up languishing in 14th place. Before Jagielka’s dramatic intervention, it had looked like being a much-needed win for Brendan Rodgers’s men after captain Steven Gerrard curled in a second-half free-kick. Now the Liverpool manager will be hoping that turn around begins in earnest in Switzerland.
Liverpool triumphed when European nights returned to Anfield two weeks ago, but a 2-1 win over Ludogorets embodied the struggles they have had this season. It took 82 minutes for the hosts to get the breakthrough against the Bulgarian champions. That came through Mario Balotelli’s first, and still only, goal for the club, with the Italian striker still coming up with occasional moments rather than complete performances. The club’s other attacking summer signings, Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic, and the rarely featured Rickie Lambert, have fared no better. The loss of Luis Suarez is all too apparent. It was not just the Uruguayan’s breathtaking quality but also his intensity with and without the ball that was so important in setting the tone for Liverpool’s play last season. In recent weeks the pace and movement of Sturridge has also been missed. While there was hope that the striker would return for the Merseyside derby, he has again been left out of the squad to travel to Switzerland, having failed to recover from a thigh injury picked up with England at the start of September.
After Liverpool finally got the lead against Ludogorets, it took less than five minutes for them to relinquish it in a sign of the club’s more familiar defensive issues. Jagielka’s late stunner on Saturday means Liverpool have still kept just one clean sheet this season. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is under mounting criticism, while recent arrival, Dejan Lovren, has not yet had the desired impact. Last summer’s big defensive signing, Mamadou Sakho, found himself axed from the squad entirely against Everton, a decision that the France international responded to by walking out of Anfield. While he has since apologized, he has not been taken on the trip to Switzerland.
On Wednesday, Liverpool will be taking on a club that has also undergone significant changes over the summer. Basel have been consistent European performers in recent years and last season beat Chelsea home and away in the Champions League group stage. But they soon lost the star of those wins, Mohamed Salah, to the London club and then in the close season saw manager Murat Yakin depart along with further key players Valentin Stocker and Yann Sommer. This season’s Champions League campaign began with a chastening 5-1 defeat to Real Madrid. It means that a positive result on Wednesday could be vital to their qualification hopes.
The two clubs have only met twice before in competitive action, with both matches being drawn when they met in the Champions League group stage in 2002. There will, though, be a more recent connection between the two men on the touchline. New Basel coach Paulo Sousa walked out on English Championship side Swansea City in the summer of 2010 to take over at Leicester City, with Brendan Rodgers coming in as his replacement. Three months later Sousa was out of work and by the end of the season Swansea were promoted to the Premier League. A year later, while Rodgers’ record with Swansea earned him the Liverpool post, Sousa was rebuilding his reputation with Hungarian side Videoton and then in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv. A duel with Rodgers and Liverpool now presents another opportunity to show he belongs in the big time.
Prediction: It is unlikely to be an easy night for Liverpool. While there were some positive signs against Everton, going forward the tempo and fluidity is still lacking and at the back there remains a feeling that the opposition will always be given a chance. Still, it has not been an ideal start for Sousa at Basel and they don’t look to be quite the same difficult proposition they have been in recent seasons. A draw could be on the cards, which should leave Liverpool fairly contented.
Basel 1-1 Liverpool
Kickoff time: 2.45 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 2
Live stream: Fox Soccer 2Go