independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Luis Suarez fails to rescue reds

Liverpool 2 Udinese 3
Europa League Group A

No matter what the competition, Liverpool and Europe always seem to mix with the potency of a Molotov cocktail.

The much-maligned, sleepy Europa League produced a thrilling group encounter at Anfield, with Italian side Udinese securing victory with three second-half goals.

Jonjo Shelvey had earlier given the hosts a deserved lead, only for the majestic Antonio Di Natale, a Sebastian Coates own-goal and Giovanni Pasquale to shift the momentum.

Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez's late arrival coincided with Udinese's goal flourish, and although the striker reduced the deficit, Liverpool's promising start to the group was undermined by defensive lapses.

Liverpool's Boston-based owners are starting to resemble a firing squad. In their two years of dual ownership of Liverpool and the Red Sox they have dismissed four managers -- Bobby Valentine, the veteran baseball coach, was the latest yesterday.

Having taken over at Anfield carefully nurturing the image of custodians who favour stable, family-run clubs, they need Brendan Rodgers to provide the longevity all teams crave and stop them issuing their cards.

There have been growing signs this is one appointment they have got right.

Despite an inauspicious series of results in the Premier League, Rodgers'

vision had started to yield reward heading into this game, three wins in the previous four games tentatively hinting at some momentum.

As the first of three consecutive home fixtures in October, the month offered an ideal opportunity to build upon it.

The risks in the starting line-up were minor. Joe Allen and Glen Johnson were the only starters you would expect to face Stoke in the Premier League on Sunday.

Some, such as summer signing Oussama Assaidi, hope to force their way into the league campaign. He was first into the action with a tricky run on six minutes but delayed his shot as Udinese's defence retreated.

The Italians' keeper was first called upon on nine minutes when Sebastian Coates' towering header connected with Stewart Downing's corner. Zeljko Brkic not only pushed the ball clear, but managed to kick the rebounding ball to safety as Liverpool's attackers tried to pounce.

Suffered

The goalkeeping expertise continued at the opposite end when Pepe Reina, who has suffered too much ignominy in the last two years, showed a glimpse of his former self to prevent Medhi Benatia heading the visitors ahead on 14 minutes.

Liverpool responded with an enterprising spell that led to the first goal.

Shelvey found Downing scampering down the right, and powered his way into the box to meet the resulting cross. An emphatic finish to the kind of move Rodgers maps out in his dreams of attractive football.

Although the experienced and classy Di Natale was a persistent threat, Liverpool were now enjoying a dominant period, with Shelvey running the show.

Liverpool were punished for not making more of their possession when Di Natale acted upon his threat within 31 seconds of the start of the second half.

Substitute Andrea Lazzari was instantly into the action, crossing from the left for the Italian international to guide the ball past Reina with a first time shot.

The Italians had re-emerged showing more appetite, Liverpool forced to re-establish themselves after cursing an equaliser which had not reflected the balance of power.

Whereas Shelvey, Assaidi and Downing had shone in the first half, it was now their defenders who were needed to show Liverpool's resolve.

The hosts needed more impetus. Whether it was pre-planned or through necessity, Rodgers called upon the cavalry on 64 minutes when Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard replaced Assaidi and Jordan Henderson.

Their welcome was typically rapturous and impact predictably galvanising on the game -- for both teams.

Suarez sent Downing down the right and he was subjected to a fly-half's tackle from Giampiero Pinzi that was greeted, generously, with just a yellow card.

From Gerrard's free-kick, Suarez fired across goal and Shelvey somehow failed to tap in from two yards.

Liverpool paid an instant price when Coates headed Lazarri's free-kick past Reina on 70 minutes, and then Pasquale improbably claimed a stunning third from 20 yards.

The scoreline was unjust and Suarez responded immediately, swerving a 25-yard free-kick beyond Brkic to restore belief.

A frantic finale ensued, during which Downing missed a great chance, but Liverpool again succumbed to their own frailties at the back. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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