Liverpool 2 - 3 Udinese Calcio 4 October 2012
Before Udinese's trip to the Emirates in 2011, the team took a stroll around Marylebone and Regents Park. The north-east Italian team's coaches obviously wanted a relaxed
squad going into the big game. Arsenal won one nil, but Di Natale caused them all sorts
of problems and Gunners' goalkeeper Szczesny had to be on his game to keep them at
bay; the loss of Sanchez to Barcelona didn't faze the Italians as much as was anticipated.
I imagine the Liverpool coaching staff will have studied that match closely, for this was
the first meeting ever between the two sides.
The teams lined up with Liverpool in a 4-3-3 and Udinese with 3-5-2. Which would
Downing is put out on the right flank; Shelvey is given yet another start, making one
believe that Brendan Rodgers is putting faith in him as a permanent fixture in midfield;
and Borini is also on again, perhaps so he can listen in on the Italians' banter.
Assaidi, the Moroccan, whose first year this is with the Reds is out on the left.
It is he
who looks lively early on, but he shows the defenders too much of the ball on more than
a couple of occasions. Nevertheless, this is an indication that Rodgers is throwing his
young players (19 year-old Robinson is on at right back too) in at the deep end, or giving
them their chance to shine. Take your pick. In any case there's no Suarez and no Gerrard
in the starting line up.
Early on it's difficult to tell who is on top. Shelvey shoots from distance, Udinese's
Serbian keeper Zeljko Brkic makes a save, Udinese counterattack very quickly and Di
Natale takes a shot. The Italians are not here for a draw by the look of it.
Liverpool take the lead due to Shelvey's long pass out to the right to Downing who walls
it over the the back stick where the unmarked Shelvey heads downwards inside the far
post. Nice goal. 1 – 0.
The lead seems a little undeserved as the teams seem fairly even. Then Di Natale, from
the right hits the ball with the outside of his right foot and the ball curves just over the
angle of the bar and the far post. End-to-end with Downing's shot blocked, but then
it would be.
Then Johnson finds himself in a position similar to Di Natale's a minute
before: out on the right; but the Liverpool man hits the ball instead with the inside of his
right foot, thus giving himself little to no chance of scoring. And there's the difference:
Di Natale - top scorer in Serie A in 2009-10 with 29 goals – is easily the best player
on show, and he is surrounded with generally competent teammates .. though of course
Shelvey's run should have been tracked by at least one of Udinese's five midfielders.
Pinzi is driving the Italians forward from midfield.
Suddenly Liverpool have a good couple of minutes of uninterrupted possession - so
this is the new Swansea after all! Until we are reminded that Swanselona's possession
play happened largely in the first two thirds of the pitch. Anyway, at least the dangerous
Italiani can't score without a ball.
What will Francesco Guidolin tell his players before they duck their heads under
the "This is Anfield" sign to emerge from the tunnel for the second time?
Whatever the manager said, the words must have been magic ones as only 30 seconds
from the restart a mirror image of the Shelvey goal happens with Di Natale's great strike
under pressure flying past Reina. 1 - 1.
The game trundles along for a while. Rodgers has decided that he now wants to win the
match, so he puts on Gerrard and Suarez for the increasingly anonymous Assaidi and the
constantly anonymous Henderson. The Liverpool energy gauge shoots up to a high level - into the red you might say. The Brazilian Willians is brought on to stiffen up the Italian
midfield, and immediately an inswinging free kick is met by Reds' centre back Coates
who deftly places the ball inside the far post. Own goal. 1 - 2.
Two minutes later Di Natale, in the box, back to goal, plays keepy uppy, then takes a
preparation touch and passes into the path of Pasquale whose driven low shot inside the
far post gives Reina no chance. Great goal. 1 - 3.
Three minutes after that Suarez cracks in a great free kick over a tall jumping wall. 2 – 3.
Really is end-to-end. What an exciting match!
Suarez almost equalizes, Gerrard shoots against a defender's back, Brkic saves from
Suarez, Allen doesn't get called for a penalty, Sterling who's on for the lumbering Borini,
fires just over the bar.
Result: 2 - 3
There is some talk about why Gerrard wasn't playing from the beginning – or Suarez
come to that. Famous last words and all, but it doesn't look like Liverpool will win the
BPL this time, so here's a big chunk of silverware in the form of the Europa League that you
might think would be worth winning .. but you don't play your best players.
Hmm. I notice Udinese played their best player from the start. Rodgers must be weening
the babies – that's it. But hang on a minute, Liverpool and England right back Glen
Johnson was playing from the start; the problem is he made poor decisions when in
promising positions. Case in point - in the 27th minute he finds himself behind the
Udinese defence, but panics and wastefully gives away the ball. So what does experience
Pros and cons, but Brendan Rodgers must be given all the time he needs to craft his team.
Next up for Liverpool: Anzhi.