TEN-MAN Liverpool were masters of their own downfall as they exited the Champions League after coming up short in their must-win encounter at home to Basel.
Scorers: Gerrard (81) - Basel - Frei (25)
Steven Gerrard, ten years and one day exactly since he rammed home that famous goal against Olympiacos which set them on the path to their fifth European Cup, did his best to change their fate – again – with a late free-kick but he needed others to contribute more and they failed.
Trailing to Fabian Frei’s 25th-minute goal, the hosts had Lazar Markovic sent off just after coming on at half-time for an innocuous flick of the arm. And although a late trademark set-piece goal from the captain raised hopes, they had left themselves too much to do and a 1-1 draw saw them knocked out.
The omens were not good from the off after Liverpool were denied the calming influence of Kolo Toure, itself an indicator of their defensive frailties, because of a groin injury.
Dejan Lovren came in for his first start in five matches but it was centre-back partner Martin Skrtel who seemed to suffer most as his slip let in Shkelzen Gashi who drilled high into the Kop.
The troublesome Basel winger also had the ball in the net just before half-time but his strike was ruled out for offside.
Marco Streller had a shot blocked by Glen Johnson six yards out and also turned an awkward volley wide. But it was Frei’s strike from 20 yards, after a one-two with Luca Zuffi, which whistled past goalkeeper Simon Mignolet who could only stand and watch midway through the first half.
By contrast Liverpool’s attacking was sporadic and disjointed even with Gerrard restored to his attacking role behind the central striker.
Brendan Rodgers made a bold decision at the interval and sent on Markovic, possibly the most disappointing of his £20 million summer signings, and Alberto Moreno for striker Rickie Lambert and Jose Enrique.
Raheem Sterling was pushed into an unfamiliar central role in an attempt to utilise his blistering pace but before he could get into his stride Liverpool’s job was made even more difficult by the dismissal of Markovic.
As the Serbia international broke on the halfway line he flicked out a hand to keep Behrang Safari at bay, and if he was surprised by the defender’s collapse to the floor he was astounded to see Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers brandish a red card.
With his side at a numerical disadvantage the onus appeared to fall even more on Gerrard, but when he charged onto Sterling’s pass he could not muster enough speed in a race with goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik, who got the vital first touch to prevent the concession of a penalty as the Reds captain went sprawling.
But Gerrard was not finished and his free-kick into the top corner off the post cranked the atmosphere up to ‘famous European night’ level but unfortunately for the home side this was no to be St Etienne or Olympiacos and the Europa League now beckons for Rodgers’ team.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Lovren, Skrtel, Jose Enrique (Moreno 47), Allen, Lucas (Coutinho 74), Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Lambert (Markovic 47). Subs Not Used: Brad Jones, Sakho, Lallana, Can.
Basel: Vaclik, Schar, Suchy, Safari, Xhaka, El-Nenny (Diaz 83),Frei, Gashi, Zuffi (Samuel 87), Streller (Embolo 75), Gonzalez. Subs Not Used: Vailati, Degen, Delgado, Hamoudi.