Brendan Rodgers’ side arrived at St Jakob-Park having not lost any of their previous nine matches against Swiss opposition, but they rarely troubled home goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik and their recent fallibility against set-pieces was exposed again as Marco Streller’s second-half strike proved enough to take the points.
Liverpool improved after falling behind, but they lacked composure in front of goal and – with two fixtures against Group B favourites Real Madrid next on their schedule – they have their work cut out to qualify for the knockout stages.
A low-key first-half offered only fleeting chances at goal, although Raheem Sterling had the ball in the net early on only to realise he had strayed offside before collecting Lazar Markovic’s cross.
A mistake from Steven Gerrard presented Streller with the first chance for the hosts, but his shot from the edge of the box was deflected wide and Mohammad Elneny’s curling 20-yarder was safely held by Simon Mignolet.
Another effort from Streller lacked the pace to concern the Liverpool keeper, who was forced to pull off a smart stop to deny Serey Die after his original effort was blocked.
Dejan Lovren headed over from Gerrard’s corner and Vaclik comfortably dealt with Sterling’s speculative long-range strike and another mis-timed header from Lovren.
Basel looked sharp immediately after the break and Mignolet did well to get down low to his left to palm away a decent effort from Ahmed Hamoudi before Streller fired the home side ahead on 52 minutes.
Martin Skrtel inadvertently directed Taulant Xhaka’s corner towards his own goal via Lovren’s back and Mignolet spared his defender’s blushes with a full-length dive to claw the ball away, but he could not steer the ball to safety and Streller was on hand to stab in the loose ball.
Liverpool responded in positive fashion with Mario Balotelli having a powerful free-kick blocked by Vaclik and Markovic’s follow-up was deflected wide by Fabian Schar.
A frustrated Balotelli then blazed over from 30 yards, and Sterling’s control let him down at the crucial moment after being put through by Philippe Coutinho and Vaclik pounced to smother.
Markovic sliced wide from a tight angle, and Vaclik positioned himself perfectly to get right behind a 25-yard free-kick from Gerrard with five minutes remaining.
Balotelli did beat Vaclik in added time, but he was clearly offside when he latched onto Gerrard’s pass and Basel held out to celebrate a hard-earned victory.