Liverpool 2 Udinese 3: Lessons as Antonio Di Natale stars at Anfield
Liverpool 2 Udinese 3: What did we learn as Antonio Di Natale punished the Reds for not converting their dominance at Anfield?
Di Natale gives compatriot Borini an education in forward play
Ahead of the game, Fabio Borini assured concerned supporters his barren run would soon come to an end – the Italian has scored just once since his summer switch. And perhaps it was fitting the young 21-year-old, who is clearly eager to impress at the five-time European champions, faced a player worth emulating in Antonio Di Natale. The 34-year-old continues to defy his age and outwit defenders to post impressive goal scoring figures. Di Natale, who was joined by Borini in Italy’s Euro 2012 squad, had already netted twice prior to the Anfield encounter and he added a third 43 seconds into the second half. Udinese substitute Flavio Lazzani fed Di Natale, who shrugged off the attentions of Joe Allen and fired an emphatic shot past Pepe Reina. The visitors’ captain was the architect of Udinese’s other goals too – he delivered a wicked set-piece delivery which forced Sebastián Coates into an error, before his exceptional close control helped him evade Coates and Jamie Carragher and set up Giovanni Pasquale for the visitors’ third. Meanwhile, Borini’s goalless streak continued as he fluffed an early opportunity following good work from Stewart Downing, and though his darting run provided Shelvey with the space to put Liverpool ahead in the 23rd minute, it was no surprise to see the former Roma man substituted with the Reds trailing.
Shelvey’s stock continues to rise
Shelvey is fast becoming a central figure in Brendan Rodgers’ revolution at Anfield, with the England Under-21 international netting his third goal of the season against Udinese. The 20-year-old has started three Premier League games this season which included the 2-2 draw with Manchester City and a 2-1 loss to Manchester United – he was dismissed for a reckless challenge on Jonny Evans in the latter. But it was his 20-minute cameo in Bern which saw the midfielder net twice to seal a 5-3 victory over Young Boys which served to earn him favourable comparisons to club icon Steven Gerrard. Frustrated by his domestic suspension, Shelvey seized his chance to impress alongside Jordan Henderson in the Reds’ midfield. His passing was exceptional in the opening 45 minutes as he linked up well with Allen and Henderson. For his goal, Shelvey collected a short pass from Henderson before spraying the ball out wide and timing his burst into the box to perfection – akin to Gerrard – and heading past Zeljko Brkic. He struggled to maintain his high level in second half which saw the entire Liverpool side toil and he will rue a particularly harrowing miss from six yards in the 70th minute. But it is an experience which will prove invaluable moving forward. Expect the youngster to get plenty of playing time with Lucas Leiva out injured.
Areas of concern for Rodgers
Despite thoroughly dominating possession in a one-sided first half, Rodgers’ side only held a slender one-goal advantage at the interval. The Reds’ failure to convert their period of sustained dominance into further goals was costly as a sluggish start to the second half saw Udinese punish the Merseyside outfit. Di Natale’s strike served to spread a renewed enthusiasm throughout the Serie A side, and the Reds fell behind in the 71st minute. Di Natale’s free-kick prompted Coates to inadvertently guide an attempted clearance past Reina. Dejection soon turned to despair as the Udinese captain gave a brief ball juggling exhibition unchallenged in the Reds area before teeing up his wing-back Pasquale, who drilled a low effort past Reina. Suarez did manage to net a sublime free-kick to give Liverpool something to chase but it ultimately proved a consolation strike. Rodgers admitted the opening 25 minutes of the second half was the decisive period, and it is this spell which has been an issue throughout the campaign, including defeats at West Bromwich Albion and United.
Downing answers call to arms
Last week, Rodgers questioned Downing’s “fight” after the England international’s disappointing impact at Anfield since joining in a £20m deal from Aston Villa in 2011. The 28-year-old has not started in the Premier League since Liverpool suffered a 3-0 defeat by West Brom, with the Europa League presenting Downing with a chance to play his way back into Rodgers’ first-team. He exchanged a neat one-two with Glen Johnson which unlocked a sturdy Udinese rearguard in the opening period before the former Middlesbrough midfielder created Liverpool’s opener. Shelvey spread the play out wide to the right where Downing showed conviction to take on his marker and deliver a beautifully weighted cross – Shelvey finished the move with a thunderous header. Buoyed by his contribution, Downing showed ambition to evade two Udinese challenges with a slaloming run on the stroke of half-time which resulted in a free-kick in a dangerous position. The winger was forced to employ a more defensive role in the second half with Udinese in the ascendency. But Downing had his chance to exorcise the memories of a frustrating 14 months at Anfield, when deep into injury time, a neat Liverpool move saw the ball worked across to the right with Downing unmarked – but the energy-sapped midfielder could only drill his effort into Brkic’s arms.