Liverpool stunned by Udinese
Liverpool 2 Udinese 3:THE ENTERTAINMENT value will have been of little consolation to Brendan Rodgers. For the second Europa League tie in succession, Liverpool were involved in an absorbing, high-scoring contest but their 13-game unbeaten European run at Anfield was brought to a shuddering halt by Udinese.
Not for the first time this season it was the manner of the goals that Liverpool gave away, and not their performance level, that will have troubled Rodgers most.
Both teams have made similar starts to their league campaigns, with one win apiece leaving them 14th and 15th in their respective tables, but they took a contrasting approach to their Europa League meeting.
Francesco Guidolin, the Udinese coach, had listened to appeals from his senior players not to deny them an appearance at Anfield, a moment Antonio Di Natale likened to appearing in a European final. Rodgers had to be far more pragmatic and again made wholesale changes in the competition, albeit with Joe Allen and Glen Johnson starting, with Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez on the bench.
As in Berne against Young Boys and at West Brom in the Capital One Cup, disruption and inexperience rarely showed in the Liverpool performance and the Italians’ 3-5-2 formation frequently shifted into a five- and six-man defence as the home side dominated possession. Liverpool were not the only side to threaten and their lax defending offered encouragement to Udinese, particularly at set pieces, but the momentum of three wins in the last four outings ran through Rodgers’s side.
Stuart Downing was in need of an impact having been told by Rodgers that he had to show the required “hunger and desire” to fight for a future with Liverpool. He responded to his manager’s warning and was instrumental in the breakthrough.
Jonjo Shelvey started the move with a ball out to Downing on the right followed by a sprint into the box for the return. Downing delivered to perfection, his cross picking out the unmarked midfielder who steered a header beyond the despairing dive of Brkic. It was Shelvey’s third Europa League goal this season.
Coach Guidolin injected some urgency into a passive performance at half-time, but even he must have been astonished by the impact his substitution made. Just 35 seconds had elapsed when the substitute Andrea Lazzari seized on Johnson’s first mistake of the season. Pereya took over and found Di Natale, who picked out Lazzari’s run into space down the left and then ghosted into the area to stroke the return beyond Reina.
The keeper was livid on his 80th European appearance for Liverpool, equalling the club record set by Ray Clemence but there was little he could have done.
Lazzari engineered Udinese’s second with an inswinging free-kick that Coates inexplicably headed past his own goalkeeper. Two minutes later, a flowing Italian move saw Di Natale hold the ball up expertly inside the Liverpool area before laying it off for Pasquale to drive home an unstoppable left-foot shot.
Suarez gave Liverpool hope with a blistering free-kick with 15 minutes to go but there was to be no last-minute face-saving strike.
LIVERPOOL:Reina, Johnson, Coates, Carragher, Robinson, Henderson (Gerrard 65), Allen, Shelvey, Downing, Borini (Sterling 79), Assaidi (Suarez 65). Subs not used: Jones, Sahin, Skrtel, Wisdom.
UDINESE: Brkic, Benatia, Danilo, Domizzi, Faraoni, Agyemang-Badu, Pinzi (Willians 70), Pasquale, Pereyra, Di Natale (Ranegie 85), Armero (Lazzari 46). Subs not used: Padelli, Coda, Fabbrini, Heurtaux. Booked: Benatia, Pinzi, Faraoni.
Referee: Stefan Johannesson (Sweden).