Liverpool play well in a home match and come away empty-handed. The latest episode of this ongoing saga came after a 3-2 defeat to Udinese in the second round of matches in the Europa League group stages.
After a scrappy opening, Liverpool recorded the first chance of the evening on 7 minutes when Sebastian Coates had a low header saved by Zeljko Brkic following a Stewart Downing corner.
In response, Udinese went close on 13 minutes when a Mehdi Benatia header forced a brilliant save by Pepe Reina. The save would have no doubt provided Reina with a welcome confidence boost after the most testing period in his Liverpool career. It was indeed a world class stop and reminded everyone of the Spaniard’s talents.
On his return to the starting line-up, Fabio Borini had two half chances on 16 and 17 minutes. The first came after a solo run and left-footed shot which he could only drag wide; the second when Stewart Downing pulled the ball back to the Italian, only for him to miss his shot completely.
The first goal of the match came on 22 minutes and the source was again Jonjo Shelvey, who is fast becoming an early contender for top goalscorer in the Europa League. It was Shelvey who started the move, stroking the ball out wide to Downing, who fired in a fine right-footed cross back to Shelvey arriving right on cue to nod a fine low header into the bottom left hand corner. A fine team goal.
The remainder of the first half passed fairly uneventfully but Liverpool’s possession play was again neat and tidy, albeit lacking in penetration. They failed to stretch their lead after a dominant period, and predictably, they would suffer as a consequence.
The second half got off to the worst possible start, when a classy Antonio Di Natale guided a right footed shot home from the penalty spot, after a smart one-two between him and substitute Andrea Lazarri.
The Italian outfit began to gain a foothold on the game and Rodgers responded on 64 minutes by sending on star duo Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez at the expense of Jordan Henderson and the lively Oussama Assaidi.
Their impact was almost immediate when on 69 minutes Suarez got on the end of a Gerrard cross and fired the ball brilliantly across the box, only for Jonjo Shelvey to miss the ball with his lead leg and inadvertently clear with his back leg from three yards out.
Udinese responded a minute later by taking a 2-1 lead. Sebastian Coates was caught facing the wrong way after a wicked Di Natale free-kick and headed into his own net.
There looked to be more goals in the game, but unfortunately for Liverpool, they could only manage a consolation effort. Inevitably, it came from Luis Suarez, who curled in a brilliant right-footed free-kick from the left hand side of the box.
Late chances came for Suarez, Downing and substitute Raheem Sterling, but it was a recurring case of too little too late for Liverpool.
It would be all too easy to categorise this third straight home defeat as another hard-luck story. Although they deserved at least a point, it is abundantly clear that Liverpool’s defending is nowhere near acceptable and they continue to look susceptible in this area.
The Reds have now conceded fourteen goals in their last seven outings and a ratio of two goals conceded per game is not good enough for a team aspiring to reach a loftier perch in the Premier League and progress in Europe.
The usual positives can be taken – there was some easy-on-the-eye passing football and the work rate in tonight’s encounter means that at no point this season have Liverpool fell short in this department.
There is still time to recover in their Europa League campaign, but significantly, Liverpool will feel ‘back to square one’ in terms of their confidence. Losing yet again after a decent performance will bring back that all-too-familiar demoralising feeling.
They will need to dust themselves down immediately for another important league game on Sunday. Let’s hope they can finally re-discover some form at Anfield.
L4L Man of the Match: Jack Robinson. The 19-year-old continues to impress and at this rate he could well become Liverpool’s regular left-back by the end of the season. He has tremendous work rate, decent pace and bags of stamina. His positional play appears sound for a player so young, but his most impressive attribute is that silky left foot. His distribution was superb all evening and that is something which will stand him in good stead under Brendan Rodgers.
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