Liverpool top group with Udine win
Europa League review:Liverpool reached the knockout stages of the Europa League after winning Group A with a 1-0 win over Udinese in Italy that rendered Young Boys' 3-1 victory over Anzhi Makhachkala redundant. They were joined in the last 32 by Tottenham and Newcastle, who finished second in their respective groups.
In a three-way tie on 10 points, the Reds came out on top thanks to their head-to-head record and the Russians were second.
Midfielder Jordan Henderson's goal was the difference between the Reds reaching the knockout stages for the ninth time in 11 attempts and crashing out. It was only his third strike for the club he joined for £16 million in the summer of 2011 — and his first since May 8th — and he would have had another had it not been for a brilliant reaction save from former Liverpool goalkeeper Daniele Padelli.
Liverpool’s trouble this season has been a reliance on Luis Suarez, playing his first European away match for the Reds, to provide the goals. Manager Brendan Rodgers has called for others to contribute and in recent weeks Daniel Agger, Jonjo Shelvey, Jose Enrique and even Joe Cole have chipped in.
By hitting the target in the Stadio Fruili, Henderson became the 15th different player to score this season, three short of the club record.
The 22-year-old had endured a difficult start to his Liverpool career and could have been sold in the summer but he has expressed his desire to fight for a place and a future at Anfield. To call it a watershed moment for him would be premature but ensuring the club’s participation in Europe in the new year was an important hurdle to get over.
“He is a great lad and works hard and has come in over the last month and made a good contribution to the team,” said manager Brendan Rodgers afterwards. “It was a very good finish and he was unfortunate not to get a second goal as the keeper made a wonderful save. He has that quality to arrive in the box and he has a finish in him so I am delighted for him and his hard work is paying off.”
Udinese ended the game with 10 men after a red card for Giovanni Pasquale. Having already been booked for clattering into the back of Suso he was shown a second yellow 11 minutes from time for tangling with Sterling. Nonetheless, substitute Antonio di Natale almost knocked Liverpool out at the death when he fired over with the last kick of the match.
“It is that moment when there is literally 20 seconds left and we’ve given away the ball. It was very close,” admitted Rodgers. “Hopefully it is a sign we have a little bit of luck going our way because maybe a couple of months back that would have gone in and we would be out of the competition. There was no margin for error tonight, I felt we had to win the game because we were in a difficult group against good teams. Over the course of all the games, how we have played and progressed through the tournament I think we are deserved winners of the group.