Friday, October 5, 2012

Liverpool 2 - 3 Udinese Calcio

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.

Liverpool


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 dominate?

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 count for? Pros and cons, but Brendan Rodgers must be given all the time he needs to craft his team.

Next up for Liverpool: Anzhi.

Peter Rodd

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