Following a thrilling 5-3 victory away to Young Boys in their Europa League opener, Liverpool host Udinese on Thursday (20:05, BST), hoping for a positive result to solidify their position at the top of the group.
Liverpool began the season poorly, but have shown signs of gradual improvement in recent weeks, culminating in Saturday’s 5-2 win away to Norwich.
The short-passing style imposed by new coach Brendan Rogers is starting to pay dividends, yielding three wins from their last four matches in all competitions.
Luis Suarez was in sparkling form against Norwich, scoring a hat-trick as part of a superb display that saw him consistently trouble the opposition defence with his slaloming runs. He has the potential to be the highly-mobile epicentre of Liverpool’s attacking play, but needs to produce performances of that quality on a regular basis.
Rogers has so far shown great faith in his younger players, starting three under the age of 20 against Norwich. It is likely to be the more sprightly members of his squad that make up the majority of the starting eleven in this match.
All of Liverpool’s scorers in the end-to-end victory away to Young Boys were aged 21 or under. Although Udinese are likely to prove a stiffer test, Rogers is mindful that he does not have a particularly deep squad in his disposal and can be expected to persevere with a reserve line-up.
Udinese, too, may look to rest a few first team regulars for the trip to Anfield. The Italians drew 1-1 at home to Anzhi Makhachkala in their opening group match. Top scorer Antonio Di Natale and midfielder Giampiero Pinzi started on the bench but Di Natale sprung from that watching brief to net the injury time equaliser.
Failure to reach the group stages of the Champions League for a second year on the trot stung hard for Udinese and coach Francesco Guidolin. They are yet to really get going this season with one win, three draws and two defeats in Serie A. Their last two matches both ended in 0-0 draws.
In many ways, starting the season in this manner is an unwanted, yet to be expected, side-effect of Udinese’s ongoing transfer policy. It sees them buy young players with potential, develop them and sell for big profits. This summer saw the departures of Mauricio Isla and Kwando Asamoah, two energetic midfielders who provided the large majority of the team’s drive last season. Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic also left the club.
Understandably, Udinese are yet to find their rhythm, although the suspicion remains that they may finally have reached the point where the amount of quality players they have sold over the last couple of seasons catches up with them.
Guidolin’s Udinese have always been a very vertical team, in that they look to get the ball forward quickly rather than build through midfield. That is an approach that can enjoy success when the players are all on the same wavelength; understand where runners will be and when to release a pass.
That has not been the case so far this season. There have been a few noticeable occasions when passes have been played into space that last season would have been occupied by the hard charging Isla or Asamoah. This season it was vacant. Udinese’s pass completion rate has dropped from 78.6% last season to 74.8% (the second worst in the league) in 2012/13.
The scene would therefore seem to be set for Liverpool to emerge victorious. However, evidence of improvement in recent matches does not necessarily mean Liverpool will be well-equipped to overcome Udinese.
The win over Young Boys was a chaotic match that, especially in the second half, bounced from end to end with little evidence of the possession-based control that is the crux of Rogers’ philosophy. Norwich too, played quite an open style that allowed Liverpool to get at their defence with relative ease.
Udinese, on the other hand, will set-up to play on the counter attack and will not leave similar amounts of space. With the possibility they could have a rested Di Natale – he missed the weekend draw with Genoa as punishment for an argument with Guidolin – to call on, the Italians are likely to make a decent game of it.
Liverpool v Udinese Betting Tips Verdict
- Expect a tightly fought encounter. We suggest backing the draw @ 29/10 with BetVictor or Pinnacle.
- On average, both teams concede their first goal early in the second half. Udinese are also likely to look to keep things tight early on, leading us to suggest backing the 2nd half to be the “highest scoring half” @ 11/10 with Stan James.