Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has challenged his players to improve their concentration after Udinese came from behind to win 3-2 at Anfield. Udinese’s talismanic striker, Antonio Di Natale delivered a virtuoso display that saw his side come from behind to stun Liverpool in the Europa League.
The game started well for Brendan Rodgers’ side as they dominated the first half, snatching the lead thanks to a thumping header by Jonjo Shelvey. It was a different game after the interval as the Italians came roaring back, with Di Natale scoring 32 seconds after the restart. An own goal by Sebastian Coates and a low strike by Giovanni Pasquale meant Luis Suarez’s sublime free-kick was nothing but a consolation.
It was a result that Brendan Rodgers and his young side will find hard to stomach. Despite the fact that this was their third successive home defeat, the Reds will draw encouragement from the way that they dictated play for long spells, completing nearly four times as many passes at their Italian opponents. The Reds dominated the game for the first 45 minutes but were unable to prevent a third successive home defeat for Liverpool and Rodgers will be keen to see his side improve in several areas ahead of the visit of Stoke in the Premier League on Sunday.
“We concede goals too easily. It’s an area we have to work on. We were very good in the first half but we lost concentration and became lazy and found ourselves 3-1 down. I thought the team worked very well but we can’t have to score three, four or five goals to win games,” Rodgers said.
Liverpool displayed a renewed swagger and assurance as they plotted a series of eloquent attacking moves and found passing angles with great precision. Shelvey was enjoying a good game in the centre midfield as he started and finished the move that led to his goal. Switching the ball wide to Stewart Downing on the right flank, the winger drifted beyond Maurizio Domizzi before delivering a driven cross which Shelvey met with a header that was too powerful for Udinese keeper Zeljko Brkic.
Udinese were proving to be everything their Premier League opponents were not; streetwise, hard-nosed and ruthless when presented with a chance. The Italians were threatening in fits and starts, forcing Pepe Reina into a stunning low save down to his right as he pushed Mehdi Benatia’s close range header to safety.
Di Natale was proving to be a constant threat for the Italians as his darting runs and willingness to shoot forcing Reina into action twice more. At half time though, Liverpool deservedly led having starved Udinese of possession, much to Rodgers’ delight. Unfortunately, their failure to capitalise on their dominance would come back to bite them after the interval.
Italy international Di Natale started the second half fired up and, 32 seconds into the second half, he scored the goal that completely changed the complexion of the game. Andrea Lazzari, only just on as a substitute, robbed Glen Johnson of possession and exchanged passes with Di Natale before the veteran striker clipped the ball beyond Reina. Liverpool were visibly shaken by the goal and struggled to rally as the game started drifting beyond them.
Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez were thrown into the fray as Liverpool tried to regain their dominance and Rodgers’ move nearly paid off as the Uruguay striker came close to scroing moments after coming on. Only an inadvertent goal line clearance from Shelvey prevented Liverpool from taking the lead again. But as Liverpool pushed for a winner, Udinese had a sting in their tail.
A blistering spell saw Udinese score two goals in three minutes as Coates headed past Reina before Di Natale delivered a beautifully timed pass that allowed Pasquale to drill a low shot beyond the Liverpool keeper.
Suarez did his best to rouse the home support with a fizzing free kick, curling the ball up and over the Udinese wall with too much power for Brkic. The last 15 minutes were frantic as Suarez twice went close to equalising, while Gerrard had a goalbound shot blocked. Liverpool’s latest prodigy, Raheem Sterling was also introduced with ten minutes left but was unable to take either of the two late chances that fell to him as the game slipped away.
“We injected some quality into the game in the last 15 minutes or so and got a goal back but we are just disappointed that after such a good first-half performance we have given away such poor goals,” Rodgers added.
The result leaves the Premier League club third in Group A, a point behind Udinese and Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala after two games.
“It is still very tight and there are some excellent teams in our group,” Rodgers said. “For us it is important to qualify of course, but it is also an opportunity to give some of our younger players a chance.”