03 October 2012

Liverpool v Udinese 10.04.12

3:05pm ET, live in the US on FSC

Group Stage matches:
Liverpool: 5-3 BSC Young Boys (a)
Udinese: 1-1 Anzhi (h)

Previous rounds:
Liverpool: 1-1 Hearts (h), 1-0 Hearts (a); 3-0 Gomel (h), 1-0 Gomel (a)
Udinese: 1-1 Braga [4-5 pens] (h); 1-1 Braga (a) [CL Qualifier]

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-2 Norwich (a); 2-1 West Brom (a); 1-2 United (h)
Udinese: 0-0 Genoa (h); 0-0 Torino (a); 2-1 Milan (a)

Goalscorers (Europa League):
Liverpool: Shelvey 2; Borini, Coates, Downing, Gerrard, Johnson, Suarez, Wisdom 1
Udinese: Di Natale 1

Referee: Stefan Johannesson (SWE)

Johannesson was also in charge of Liverpool's 3-1 away victory over Unirea Urziceni in this competition in 2009-10. I remember nothing, good or bad, about his performance that night. Which, actually, is probably a good thing. But all I really remember from that match was that Mascherano actually scored. It happened so infrequently. That and I've pretty much repressed all of that season. And the season after it. And the season after that. Sigh.

Guess at a line-up
Johnson Coates Carragher Robinson
Henderson Allen
Downing Borini Assaidi

Let's go with the Bib Theory. It sort of feels like cheating at this line-up guessing game, but I guess you've got to use all of the tools at your disposal.

The training pictures on the official site give us seven of the XI if the theory holds to form: Johnson, Coates, Carragher, Robinson, Henderson, Shelvey, and Borini. We can supplement the rest of the outfield players with Getty Images: Allen, Assaidi, and Downing. And it's probably safe to assume that Brad Jones will continue to start the cup matches, although I wouldn't mind a shock appearance for Peter Gulacsi, especially since starting the kids is in fashion.

So, does this line-up make sense?

That Johnson and Allen would start are slight surprises. Allen's started seven of Liverpool's 12 matches, including all six in the league and the second leg against Hearts. Johnson's started eight: the league matches and both legs against Gomel, with five of his eight starts at left back. Their inclusion would suggest Liverpool's taking this more seriously than the last few cup ties.

Wariness of overusing Şahin and Gerrard coupled with Lucas' injury leaves few other options in midfield, although it'd be a bit surprising if neither Suso nor Pacheco featured, even if Suso started in Saturday's match, considering their recent performances. With both Kelly and Flanagan injured and Wisdom having started the last two matches, Johnson almost has to play. Rodgers will be far more worried about overusing the 19-year-old than England's first choice right back, even considering his own past injury issues. Also, I'm curious to see Johnson play on the right. He usually makes Liverpool far better when deployed on that side, even if he's been increasingly impressive on the left in the last few matches.

Otherwise, that's pretty much the expected line-up. Borini, returning from injury, starting with the second choice wingers – although I'm sure most would prefer that Downing were lower on the food chain. Henderson and Shelvey are almost guaranteed to play, especially because the latter's suspended for one more league match. Carragher and Coates will be the preferred pairing in most cup matches, domestic and European, while it seems Enrique's never-ending knee knock will (thankfully) allow Robinson another start.

This RAWK post and Neil Jones' match preview for the Liverpool Echo are excellent reads about Udinese. The Italian club are renowned for two things. One, buying lots and lots of players on the cheap and selling a handful of them for astronomical prices, which funds the next round of scattershot signings. It's been a successful system, one that more than a few clubs are trying to emulate. Two, Udinese are one of the few sides to still regularly deploy a 3-5-2 formation.

Udinese's traveling squad is Brkic, Padelli, Pawlowski; Armero, Benatia, Berra, Coda, Danilo, Domizzi, Heurtaux, Pasquale; Badu, Faraoni, Lazzari, Pereyra, Pinzi, Willians; Fabbrini, Di Natale, Ranegie.

Its lineup against Anzhi was Padelli; Benatia, Danilo, Domizzi; Faraoni, Agyemang-Badu, Willans, Lazzari, Armero; Pereyra; Ranegie. Its lineup in the last match, against Genoa, was Brkic; Benatia, Danilo, Coda; Faraoni, Pereyra, Pinzo, Lazzari, Pasquale; Fabbrini, Ranegie. My assumption – and I reiterate that it is an assumption – is you can somewhat split the difference, although Udinese will probably start more regulars than in the last Europa League match. The Football Italia article listing Udinese's traveling squad mentions the bust-up Di Natale had last week, which led to him being left out of the 0-0 draw against Genoa, but if he's included in the squad, he'll probably be included in the line-up. Much to Liverpool's chagrin. Along with Di Natale, Colombian Pablo Armero will be one of the biggest threats if he starts, the most-recent starring wide player on Udinese's conveyor belt. Finally, I hope we'll see Udinese's reserve keeper, Daniele Padelli, who spent the 2006-07 season on loan at Liverpool, if only for nostalgic reasons. I've no idea how he's been getting on since leaving Liverpool five years ago, but he didn't cover himself in the glory in the one match he started while on Merseyside. Still, don't bet against him being the 107th ex-Liverpool keeper to star against his former club.

It'll be interesting to see how Liverpool matches up against the 3-5-2 formation. It'd be a standard three vs three in central midfield; the crucial areas will be Liverpool's full-backs against Udinese's wing-backs/wingers. Both Johnson and Robinson would need to get forward to good effect to pin back Udinese's wide players, especially if Armero starts. Which is another good reason for Johnson's inclusion. The full-backs getting forward would also make it three vs three in Udinese's final third: the three center-backs against Liverpool's three forwards, especially since Downing and Assaidi would both be likely to cut inside. Otherwise, Udinese will be able to double- and triple-team Fabio Borini, leading to a long, isolated night for the Italian. It'll also be crucial that all three forwards are involved in pressing the opposition. I'm looking at you, Stewart. Otherwise, Udinese will be able to bring the ball out of defense fairly easily – there would always be a free man for a defender to pass to if all three aren't pressing in concerted fashion. It's safe to assume Shelvey will be involved in this as well, hopefully learning the important lesson of staying on his feet. At the other end of the pitch, Carra and Coates will have to be clever in marking Udinese's forwards, one of whom frequently drops deep – often more a 3-5-1-1 than an orthodox 3-5-2 – requiring Allen to lend a hand (if he's the deepest midfielder). Which could leave Liverpool vulnerable to midfield runners into the box.

Liverpool began the group stage on the right note two weeks ago, despite the repeated defensive frailties we've become worryingly accustomed to. Regardless of how they're earned, away wins are a bonus in this competition; it's the home matches where Liverpool needs to take maximum points in order to advance to the next round. And Udinese, along with Anzhi and regardless of who starts, will be a far tougher opponent than Young Boys were.

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