Player Ratings: Liverpool leave it late in close win over Ludogorets Razgrad
There was late drama at Anfield as Liverpool's long-awaited return to the Champions League ended in victory, but it was far too close for comfort for Brendan Rodgers' out-of-sorts side.
Ludogorets proved to be a stubborn and spirited opposition, and the Reds had to wait 82 minutes before finally breaking the deadlock, courtesy of Mario Balotelli's first goal for the club following his summer move from AC Milan.
That should have been enough for the 2005 winners to ensure they got off to a winning start against the unfancied Bulgarians, but, as they so often do, Liverpool shot themselves in the foot by irresponsibly giving away a goal that could have been avoided; piling men forward in the final minute when protecting a 1-0 lead is foolhardy and unprofessional.
At this level, errors of judgment like that are usually punished, but this is all part of the learning curve for a team -- and indeed manager -- who lack experience in this competition.
To their credit, Liverpool pushed forward and deep into stoppage time were awarded a penalty when Javier Manquillo was tripped by goalkeeper Milan Borjan. Steven Gerrard converted the spot kick in front of a hugely relieved Kop end, but Liverpool are not playing well right now and significant improvement is needed.
Player ratings (0-10; 10=best)
Simon Mignolet, 5 -- Wasn't overly troubled during the game, but decision-making in terms of when to come out and when to stay at home continues to be a problem.
The Belgian found himself on the receiving end of a verbal tirade from his skipper in the first half after he hesitated and left Mamadou Sakho to deal with a through ball, and perhaps that influenced the rush of blood that saw him rush out needlessly for the Ludogorets equaliser?
Javier Manquillo, 7 -- A steady performance from the young Spaniard. Solid in defence and got forward whenever possible.
He went close to opening the scoring at the Kop end when he prodded the ball over from close range, and his hustle and sense of adventure proved decisive when he won the penalty that Gerrard converted.
Alberto Moreno, 6 -- He performed well, and his grade would have been higher but for the needless, last-minute charge upfield that saw him stranded out of position for the equaliser.
His game is all about bombing forward whenever possible, but doing it in the 90th minute when your team is 1-0 up is naive in the extreme. Admittedly, his teammates should have dealt with the situation better, but the goal doesn't happen if Moreno is more tactically responsible. Other than that, very promising again.
Dejan Lovren, 6 -- Did some good things, but Liverpool's defence continues to give away poor goals, and Lovren has to shoulder some responsibility for that since he's the new leader in the back line. He could have conceded a penalty for a slight shove on Marcelinho, although that would have been a harsh decision.
The Croatian is understandably still adjusting to his new surroundings and has not been helped by having to change partners and switch from the left to the right of the central pair.
Mamadou Sakho, 6 -- Mostly solid, but could have done better in the incident when Roman Bezjak went clear to hit the post. His heading was occasionally suspect, but on the plus side, he used the ball very efficiently.
Steven Gerrard, 6 -- Not a vintage performance by the captain. His radar was off with some of his long-range passing, and one occasion he was caught sleeping and allowed Bezjak to run in behind him and go close to scoring.
He's had better nights in this competition, but when he was needed, he stepped up the plate with customary nerves of steel to convert the winning penalty deep into stoppage time.
Jordan Henderson, 7 -- A typically energetic display from the newly named vice captain. Liverpool's much vaunted pressing game hasn't really been in evidence much this season, but Henderson is still doing his bit even if others are not able to match his efforts.
Philippe Coutinho, 5 -- The Brazilian has not had the best of starts to the season and continued to struggle in this one before being substituted midway through the second half.
He hasn't been able to find his range with the "eye of the needle"-style passing he is renowned for, and too many are going astray right now.
Adam Lallana, 5 -- Struggled to make any real impact and appears to understandably be lacking match sharpness after missing most of preseason.
Perhaps with a few more games under his belt he would have converted one or both of the two chances he had in the first half. Playing wide in a front three might not be the best way to make use of his talents.
Raheem Sterling, 6 -- The teenager had some bright moments but was generally well shackled by the Bulgarians. He was able to get more involved when switched to a central role following the formation switch but lost possession in the build up to the equaliser.
Mario Balotelli, 7 -- The Italian did not have the best of games but earns an extra point or two for getting on the scoresheet. He's not there to dazzle with his build-up play; he's in the side to score goals.
Given that he did just that, he can be satisfied with his contribution. It was an excellent finish, too, and he almost added another immediately afterward with a powerful blast that drew a save from the goalkeeper.
Lucas, N/A -- The Brazilian was brought on to allow Liverpool to switch to the midfield diamond formation and get an extra striker on the field. He wasn't involved much but did what he had to well enough.
His most significant contribution was a smart tactical foul to break up what looked like it could be a dangerous Ludogorets counterattack.
Fabio Borini, N/A -- His introduction definitely made a difference, not because he was particularly impressive, but because Liverpool usually look much better when they have two strikers on the field.
Within a minute of coming on, he went close to a goal with a decent header from a Manquillo cross, and if Liverpool are to play with two strikers, then -- in the continued absence of Daniel Sturridge -- Borini's movement, work rate and pressing may make him a more suitable partner for Balotelli than Rickie Lambert.
Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.