Eyewitness Report: Liverpool 2 Udinese 3

Posted by Garstonite on October 5, 2012, 12:45:04 PM

European nights at Anfield. It isn’t the Promised Land, but there’s something about this hallowed turf under the floodlights. There’s nothing like an excuse to head to the pub early to break up the monotony of the working week too, of course.

The last time an Italian side rolled into town had been a little more memorable. The atmosphere could have been cut with a knife on the night Napoli arrived at Anfield in 2010. Udinese brought with them a more even-tempered ambiance.  Along with the small pocket of boisterous Italians in the corner of the Anfield Rd end was a smattering of Borussia Dortmund fans taking in the sights and sounds of Liverpool before returning to Germany.

Onto the game itself and, as news of the starting eleven filtered through, a quiet confidence filled the air. There are identifiable areas for concern in this “B team” but the assurance and conviction they’ve demonstrated has bred faith.  The victory over Young Boys on Matchday One was a catalyst for a newfound belief in Brendan Rodgers and the principles he’s attempting to infuse into this young squad. The one obvious, and slightly disappointing, omission was Dani Pacheco who can feel a little aggrieved to have not been involved following his impressive display at The Hawthorns. Stewart Downing, whose performance that night did little to suggest he’d earned the right to retain his place, started on the right of a front three. Assaidi operated the opposite flank supplying the returning Fabio Borini. Behind them, a midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Allen. At the back; Glen Johnson, Sebastian Coates, Jamie Carragher and Jack Robinson sat in front of Pepe Reina.

From the off, however, you got a strong sense that this was going to be a very different test. Udinese dictated the opening exchanges. A superb block from Pepe Reina denied the Italians an early lead. From there, Allen, Henderson and – in particular – Shelvey began to control the pace and impose themselves on the game. Shelvey looked like a man out to prove a point in the midst of his domestic ban and it was he who broke the deadlock a quarter of the way through the game: a sprayed ball out to Downing, a positive run into the box and an accurate header past the keeper. 1-0.

The control shown thereon was hugely encouraging, but arguably lacked a penetrative edge that may have seen off a Udinese side who resembled a tiring boxer supporting himself against the ropes until the end of the round.

During the interval, I rather naively pointed out that Di Natale had been unable to get himself into the game. His ageing legs were allowing Coates and Carragher all the time in the world to build our attacking play from the back and he wasn’t receiving the necessary support from his teammates. It took less than a minute for the Italian to take my words and shove them down my throat as his controlled effort flew into the top corner of Pepe Reina’s net. 1-1. An incisive move, a world-class finish; but from Liverpool’s perspective, a really careless goal to concede.

Despite the setback, you still felt Liverpool – aided by a bench comprising Steven Gerrard, Nuri Sahin and Luis Suarez – were in a strong position to go on and retake the initiative. What you can always expect from Italian sides, though, is discipline and good organization. Jonjo Shelvey’s inability to influence the game in the second half was no coincidence. It’s to his credit that Udinese saw fit to target him. Wandering out to the left flank in a bid to get on the ball, the sum total of his attacking threat was a tame cross straight into the arms of Brkic. 

On the hour mark, Rodgers played his hand. Suarez on for Assaidi – who struggled to take off where he’d left last week in the League Cup – and Gerrard on for Henderson.

There’s been criticism for Gerrard’s performance last night, but I did feel we lacked a cutting edge. His effort to ‘force’ the play is being seen to contradict the patient philosophy preached by our new manager. I made a similar comment after the Arsenal game. Last night, though, I felt we lacked that dynamism in the second half and I can’t criticize the skipper for trying to drive at the Udinese defence who, at times, struggled to keep tabs on the movement between him and Suarez.

Ten minutes after their introduction, however, and Udinese had the ball in the back of the net again. Sebastian Coates’ header wrong-footed Reina, blighting an otherwise solid display from the Uruguayan. 1-2.

As we were still reeling from Udinese’s second, Di Natale controlled a ball with his back to the centre-halves, juggled the ball before laying it off to the advancing Pasquale. It was a majestic moment. A big rear-end, two dancing feet. I doubt I was the only person instantly reminded of a certain Kenny Dalglish. And if the build-up was splendid, the finish was every bit as good. It was one of those rare moments. You only get a handful a season. EVERYBODY in the ground knew where that ball was going. 1-3.

In terms of entertainment on offer, you couldn’t argue the price of the ticket last night. It’s rare you get to say that. Moments after Udinese extended their lead, Suarez curled a beautiful free-kick into the corner, Kop end. Fifteen minutes to go, 2-3. Game on!

Raheem Sterling’s introduction offered a new injection of pace and energy. He was largely well-monitored but on the occasions he did wriggle free, he was unfortunate to see his efforts first blocked and, second, go past the post.

In the end, our endeavour wasn’t enough to breach Udinese’s rearguard for a third time.  Udinese can feel fortunate to have come away with all of the points. In the end, we were left to rue poor defensive errors. We knew beforehand this was going to be a tough group to advance from. Yesterday has made that task a little harder, but by no means impossible.

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