Antonio Di Natale delivered a virtuoso display as Udinese came from behind to stun Liverpool in the Europa League. Brian Irvine takes a look at 5 things we learned from the game at Anfield last night.
1. Lucas’ Absence
Liverpool’s defensive frailties have been highlighted numerous times this season; shipping another three goals last night and the fact that the team’s last clean sheets came at home to FC Gomel (Aug 3) and during the away victory to Hearts (Aug 23) are particularly telling.
The absence of Lucas Leiva has not helped matters, while Jordan Henderson, Joe Allen and Nuri Sahin do their best to protect the back-four when the can, they simply aren’t up to Lucas’ standards defensively, yet that’s obviously to be expected as they are different styles of players but also raises the issue of the squads’s lack of another genuine defensive midfielder.
While he’s still missed in the Premier League, a more settled team can deal with his absence more effectively but when chopping and changing during cup competitions his importance can become more apparent, providing crucial cover for those still getting accustomed to playing as a unit and with new partnerships still in their infancy.
Overall the entire team needs to improve defensively; concentration levels need to be maintained at all times and more communication is required. Lucas’ comeback will be a welcome return and will provide an increased confidence among the defence but more work is needed on the training ground until that time arrives.
2. Borini’s Form
Fabio Borini has come under some criticism from certain sections of Liverpool’s support yet going by his performance against Udinese he has the potential to be a good player for the club provided he gets proper service.
His tracking-back and impressive work rate was there for all to show but what have may gone unnoticed was his clever movement in and around the box. Playing in his preferred centre-forward role, he engineered one or two of his own opportunities but his several good runs into the box were let down but not being provided with the service he requires. Oussama Assaidi’s reluctance to swing in a first time ball into the box meant Borini’s runs were wasted, he was left making a forward run only to have to check back to stay onside, expecting a cross that rarely arrived.
Goals will come for Borini provided he gets the right service, his confidence doesn’t look as diminished as some people have been saying but any goal he can grab in next few games to end his drought will be important to aiding his development as a Liverpool player.
3. The need to push home the advantage
What was cruelly exposed against Udinese was, as with last season, the team’s inability to push the advantage when they’re on top. Liverpool were dominant in possession throughout the first half but failed into increase their tally to take a comfortable half-time lead. Come the opening seconds of next half, their failure to do so was duly punished.
As has been said many times before, ‘possession is nothing if you don’t score enough’. Liverpool could do with being a bit more decisive on the ball rather than passing for the sake of it. Perhaps rather than trying to emulate Barcelona, they could take a leaf out of Borussia Dortmund’s book. While they mightn’t have got a result against Manchester City on Wednesday evening they showed terrific ball retention while carving out numerous opportunities by being more direct and forward-thinking.
Another gripe I have about the current set-up is passing the ball back to Reina, we’ve already seen it before with Martin Sktrel’s backpass during the Man City game, but during almost every game a dodgy moment arises with the defence knocking it back to Pepe. It’s a accident waiting to happen and probably in a major fixture knowing Liverpool’s luck.
4. Shelvey’s Continued Progress
Jonjo Shelvey’s progression as a Liverpool player has been clear to see after Kenny Dalglish gave him a increased role within the team. While he can be a tad rash in the tackle, which can be but down to inexperience, the 20-year-old (easy to forget he’s so young) shows a maturity beyond his years when the ball is at his feet, slick, clever passes are becoming the norm for Jonjo, he may lose the ball occasionally but when he does so he’s usually attempting the right thing at the time.
He’s also beginning to show traits of leadership and influence, perhaps most finely demonstrated in his game-changing performance against Young Boys. I’ve heard some fans saying Jonjo is ‘shite’ and can’t understand it, his excellent run for his goal is reminiscent of a certain Steven Gerrard, who I feel Jonjo may be the most natural successor to in the future. Maybe not quite as explosive as Gerrard but the most similar we have at Liverpool at this moment in time. I for one I’m glad he’s with the Reds, if he continues to learn and progress as he’s been doing he will be a very important player for Liverpool in the future and England at international level.
5. The importance of a natural finisher
Antonio Di Natale proved how important a natural finisher can be to a team with his superb finish at the beginning of the second half followed by his excellent hold-up play and lay-off for Pasquale’s goal.
While I’ve talked up Borini’s potential as a goalscorer, I think he’ll be more in the mould of Dirk Kuyt, only with better feet and more pace. A natural finisher, as has been well documented is required at Liverpool and the utmost most be doing in acquiring one in January.
Di Natale showed that a clinical finisher can really be the difference, he won the game for his team with the few chances he got in a game they didn’t deserve to. If Liverpool can find a man like that it won’t be long before they’re challenging for top honours again.