Brendan Rodgers reaped the rewards for his decision to name a strong starting line-up in Liverpool’s Europa League game against Udinese, as the Reds recorded a 1-0 win over the Italians which sent them through to the next round as the winners of a tightly-contested Group A. Jordan Henderson’s strike a quarter of the way through the clash gave the visitors a slender lead which they did well to protect, though the sending off of Udinese’s Giovanni Pasquale helped Liverpool’s cause for the final 15 minutes.
The promising result left Liverpool, Anzhi Makhachkala and Young Boys all tied on 10 points, though the Reds’ superior head-to-head record ensured that they qualified over the Swiss side. The Merseysiders’ qualification may have come as a surprise to some, as they could also easily have been dumped out of the competition on Thursday night, but Rodgers’ men stuck at the task until the very end and will now hope to reach the latter stages of the tournament.
For all the negativity associated with the Europa League – a competition which features a host of sides that are not quite good enough for the prestigious Champions League – it can benefit teams such as Liverpool. Rodgers used the group stage to learn more about some of his fringe players. Indeed, good performances from the likes of Suso, Raheem Sterling and Andre Wisdom have encouraged the manager to give those youngsters further opportunities in the first team for Premier League fixtures. Jack Robinson, Adam Morgan, Jon Flanagan and Conor Coady have also made appearances in Europe this term.
On Thursday night, it was evident that Rodgers’ methods are filtering through to the team. The Reds gave a solid performance away from home against a side that had beaten them at Anfield just a couple of months ago. Liverpool appeared to control the game for much of the 90 minutes, enjoying more possession and displaying some intelligence in their play. Despite the slender lead, the visitors failed to panic and instead saw the game through, something which impressed the manager. There is still much room for improvement and Rodgers will demand that his side work on their passing and movement even further to avoid sloppiness, but the signs are encouraging.
However, there can be no doubt that the Premier League is Liverpool’s priority this season, where the Reds will be looking to improve their final league standing compared to last season. The Anfield outfit are currently sitting in eleventh place and have yet to climb into the top half of the table this campaign. Victory over high-flying West Ham United this weekend would finally allow them to do so, though the Merseysiders will be without the suspended Luis Suarez for the fixture. It remains to be seen how Rodgers will deal with that particular situation.
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