Liverpool travel to Italy to take on Udinese on Thursday (6pm GMT, live on ITV4) looking for the victory that would guarantee them a place in the knockout stages of the Europa League.
The Reds are second in Group A heading into the final round of matches, level on points with Young Boys, who host already qualified Anzhi Makhachkala. Udinese are already out of contention at the foot of the group.
Liverpool have a better head-to-head record against Young Boys, having won away and drawn at Anfield, which means that if Young Boys win or draw, Liverpool just need to match their result in order to qualify.
If, however, Liverpool lose, they will be eliminated even if Young Boys are also defeated, as Young Boys would then top a three-way head-to-head involving the Reds and Udinese.
Anzhi have nothing to play for, so Liverpool cannot rely on the Russians picking up points away in Switzerland. Victory must be the objective in Udine, although their recent form would suggest that such an occurrence is far from a foregone conclusion.
Liverpool have won just two of their last ten matches in all competitions and although manager Brendan Rodgers has said that he is content his team are moving in the right direction that is not really borne out in their results.
The Reds have largely adapted to the possession-based approach espoused by Rodgers but still lack cutting edge in the final third, Luis Suarez excepted. The Uruguayan has scored ten times in 15 Premier League appearances and twice in the Europa League, but without another recognised striker alongside him is carrying too much of the scoring burden.
Rodgers will surely look to bring in a prolific scorer in January. Until then Liverpool must muddle on and try to stay in a competition that has proved to be a useful breeding ground so far this season.
Andre Wisdom, Jonjo Shelvey and Suso all received opportunities in the Premier League following strong performances in the 5-3 win away to Young Boys with which Liverpool began their Europa League campaign. Raheem Sterling’s performances in the qualifying-round victory over Hearts played a part in his ascension to first team regular.
Rodgers has blended youth with experience in the competition and is likely to take a similar approach on Thursday. Martin Kelly and Fabio Borini are both long term absentees, but Rodgers has no other injury concerns and has all of his regulars available for selection.
Suarez will miss Liverpool’s next Premier League match after picking up a fifth yellow card of the season in the 1-0 victory over Southampton on Saturday. That makes it almost certain that he will lead the line in Udine.
Suarez scored in the thrilling match between the sides at Anfield in early October. Liverpool led 1-0 going into half time, but Udinese came out strong in the second half. They equalised within a minute of the restart and then added two more to lead 3-1 before Suarez’s consolation strike brought it back to 3-2.
At that stage it looked like the Italian side would be one of the favourites to progress to the knockout stages. But two consecutive defeats home and away to Young Boys put them in a precarious situation, and their fate was sealed by a 2-0 defeat away to Anzhi in the penultimate round of matches.
Udinese have been similarly average in Serie A so far this season, moving into the top ten for the first time following their 4-1 victory over Cagliari at the weekend, their first win in six domestic fixtures. They look some way off replicating last season’s superb third place finish, although their lack of European distractions could see them make a push in the second half of the season.
With nothing to play for in this match it seems unlikely Francesco Guidolin will risk any of his key players. Prolific scorer Antonio Di Natale is almost certain to be rested, which will come as welcome news for a Liverpool defence who were tormented by the pint-sized striker in the first meeting between the sides.
Udinese v Liverpool Betting Tips
A win would assure Liverpool of a place in the knockout stages, but they have only won seven (30%) of their 23 competitive matches this season. Both teams have made a habit of drawing matches, with 14 (47%) of their 30 accumulated domestic fixtures ending in ties and we believe that a score draw is the more likely result on Thursday.
- Bet on the draw @ best odds of 13/5 with BetVictor or Paddy Power.
- These sides played out a five-goal thriller at Anfield earlier in the group stage and have both scored at least once in all but one of their Europa League matches this season. We fancy more goals to flow, so our second betting tip is to back over 2.5 goals @ 19/20 with Bet365.