Di Natale 46'
Coates og 70'
Liverpool involved in another high-scoring shoot-out. Two group stage games, 13 combined goals. It has been unexpected to say the least.
But this one shouldn't have been a shoot-out. Liverpool were in control in the first half, exactly to Rodgers' template, and took a 1-0 lead midway through the half thanks to an excellent Shelvey header when he charged into the box to get on the end of Downing's cross, once again proving the importance of midfield runners. Sure, as always, Liverpool could have done with more goals, with better finishing, but Udinese were defending excellently even if they had no idea how to regain possession. To say that Liverpool were dominant would be an understatement bordering on criminality.
This one picture adequately recaps the first 45 minutes.
It took 15 minutes for Liverpool to settle, with Reina making excellent saves on Di Natale's blast and Benetia's header, but from there, it was the now-ubiquitous (and now-somewhat-tiresome) death by football. Henderson and Allen dominated the middle, Shelvey was a constant threat, Coates and Carragher closed off any potential counters, and even Downing contributed, evidenced by his first assist in some time. By the 45th minute, Udinese had forgotten what the ball looked like; Liverpool had 78% possession in the half despite those shaky opening 15 minutes.
Credit for the second half comeback goes to Guidolin's tactical changes, with a heavy dash of Liverpool being Liverpool and two outstanding finishes. Udinese replaced the wholly ineffective Armero with Lazzari, and the substitute was immediately involved in the equalizer, finished off brilliantly by Di Natale. Just 33 seconds into the half. Unfortunately, the move began with Glen Johnson, unable to control Udinese's hoofed long-ball, giving it directly to Lazzari, then passed quickly from the midfielder to Pereyra to Di Natale to Lazzari, moving into the space vacated by Johnson, centering straight back for the talismanic striker to wonderfully finish first-time.
The substitution changed Udinese's formation from 3-4-2-1 to 3-5-1-1, with Lazzari deeper than Armero and Pereyra roaming behind Di Natale. It rendered Liverpool's midfield unable to dominate as they had in the first 45 minutes, struggling to replicate the control they had in the first half. Lazzari, Pinzi, and Badu pressured Henderson and Allen, thoroughly cutting off the supply line forward.
After 65 minutes, Rodgers' response was to call in the cavalry, Suarez and Gerrard replacing Assaidi and Henderson. But rather than reinforce Liverpool, Udinese went up 3-1 within seven minutes.
The funny thing – if you have a sense of humor about these things – is that Liverpool should have gone 2-1 up just before the dam broke: Udinese half-cleared a Gerrard free-kick straight to Suarez, who rocketed a shot towards the far corner. But somehow, Shelvey blocked it on the goal line, a near-perfect replica of what happened to Norwich in Liverpool's last match, when Snodgrass kept Norwich from equalizing not long after the second-half restart.
Udinese stormed down the field, with Borini fouling Badu to stop the breakaway. And then Udinese made their set play count, again taking advantage of Liverpool's propensity for errors coupled with misfortunate as Coates headed into his own net when both Domizzi and Benatia found space between him and Carragher.
With Liverpool on tilt, Udinese added a third less than two minutes later. Robinson stopped one counter-attack after Gerrard lost possession, but the captain then lost it a second time, unsurprisingly pushing forward with reckless ambition. Badu's chipped ball over the top, Di Natale controlling around Carragher all too easily, sucking both Coates and Johnson into the center, then laying off for the on-rushing Pasquale, who hammered a sumptuous low drive past Reina. Yikes.
It's no wonder Rodgers' post-match quotes were so damning.
"It was a game where we were much the better side but lost our concentration at the beginning of the second half. I thought we'd moved on from that, to be honest. We had total control in the first half and were deservedly in the lead, but we were so loose at the beginning of the second half it was frightening. Our concentration was very poor and before we knew it we were 3-1 down. The last 20 minutes was very good but it's too late by then. I thought we were lazy. Lazy in our play, loose and sloppy."
Suarez's brilliance pulled one back not long after, a magisterial free kick from outside the box in the 75th – but Udinese's deep, well-organized defense weren't likely to allow another. Not that Liverpool didn't have chances. But Suarez headed straight at Brkic from Downing's deep cross then had a near-post effort saved, while Sterling had a dangerous shot blocked then curled a narrow-angled effort high and wide. Liverpool's final chance, through the surprisingly-not-terrible Downing, was hit directly at the keeper, an apt summation of his time at the club despite the promise intermittently demonstrated today.
75% possession. 20 shots to eight. 691 completed passed to Udinese's 173. 91% pass accuracy to Udinese's 72%. Joe Allen was Liverpool's top passer with 127 completed. Roberto Pereyra was Udinese's top passer with 22 completed. All 11 Liverpool starters, including the goalkeeper, completed more passes than Udinese's most prolific player. Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
What makes this so disappointing is that aside from the five minutes to start the second half and that five-minute stretch from the 69th-74th minute, Liverpool played how Rodgers wants Liverpool to play. Everyone impressed in the first half, less so in the second, but Coates and Jack Robinson were standouts despite conceding three goals, Allen controlled the game, Henderson was outstanding in the first half (although Udinese's changes rendered him far less effective), Shelvey scored a great goal because of a clever run into a box and an intelligent cross from Downing, and Suarez was a permanent threat after coming on the pitch.
But Liverpool lost, because Liverpool cannot stop conceding stupid, sloppy goals due to a lack of concentration, individual errors, and bad luck. Whether it's in the Premier League, the League Cup, or the Europa League, this simply has got to stop.