Liverpool will return to the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul next week with a 1-0 advantage over Besiktas in the last 32 of the Europa League, with an 85th minute penalty from Mario Balotelli proving decisive.
The Italian made it three substitute appearances in a row in which he has played a part in a Liverpool victory, with his penalty following a late winner against Tottenham last week and an assist for Adam Lallana in the FA Cup at the weekend.
The last time Liverpool faced Besiktas, they recorded an astonishing 8-0 win – the biggest margain of victory in a Champions League game of all time.
Tonight proved a very different story, with the Turkish league leaders proving tough opponents for the duration of this first leg clash, with the Reds unable to create too many clear cut chances.
In fact, it was Besiktas who created the best opening of the first half. Demba Ba found himself through on goal at the Kop end as he had done famously last May, however on this occasion the much improved Simon Mignolet got down to tip his side footed shot around the post.
His opposite number Daniel Sturridge was in fact making his first European appearance for the Reds, and he forced the goalkeeper into a block at the near post early on after some fine skill in the box – however a cut back to the better placed Adam Lallana looked the smarter option.
Besides that moment, the Reds came closest to breaking the deadlock with strikes from long range.
Alberto Moreno saw a stunning drive from all of 40 yards tipped over the bar, whilst both Sturridge and Henderson were narrowly off target with free kicks – the latter coming the closest with an effort just wide of the post with the keeper rooted to the spot.
The Liverpool captain for the evening almost turned provider just five minutes after the restart, when Besiktas failed to deal with a left footed cross into the box. The ball fell to Adam Lallana just six yards from goal and with the only keeper to beat, but somehow the England man blazed over and into the Kop. The fact replays showed the ball had taken an unfortunate bounce as it came into his path was little comfort.
Brendan Rodgers looked to influence the game with the introductions of Dejan Lovren and Mario Balotelli, with Emre Can moving into the midfield.
Balotelli looked particularly lively, producing some fine link up play and winning a couple of free kicks in dangerous positions.
And it was he who produced the match winning moment, first setting the impressive Jordon Ibe away on the right hand side. The 19-year-old penned a new five year contract at Anfield today, and celebrated with a man of the match display in front of the home fans. His constant menace down the right hand side was rewarded when he was bundled over in the box, and the referee pointed to the spot with just five minutes remaining.
Balotelli demanded the ball off of spot kick taker Henderson, and after what appeared a disagreement which also involved Daniel Sturridge, the 24-year-old calmly sent the keeper the wrong way to give the Reds what could prove a crucial advantage heading into the second leg.