Di Natale's tricks for Udinese make Liverpool's Europa League route tricky
Liverpool 2 Udinese 3
Friday 05 October 2012
For the first time since he came to manage Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers looked angry. He might have talked about a comeback inspired by Luis Suarez, who stretched every sinew to force an equaliser. He could have remarked how Antonio di Natale had been applauded off from every corner of Anfield after a performance of rare brilliance that swung the night Udinese's way. He might even have noted how Stewart Downing had met the challenge he had laid down to add some fight to his talent.
Instead, he said he was tired of having to score two or three goals to win a game. He was tired of losing contests Liverpool should, by rights, be winning. He was tired of defending he described as "lazy" and "sloppy".
"It's quite straightforward. We were very, very good in the first half and the problem we had in the first 15 or 20 minutes of the second half had been with us since the start of the season.
"We were much the better side and we lost, I thought we had moved on from that," said Rodgers, who has still only won a single game at Anfield – and that against Gomel, the nonentities from Belarus.
"We had total control but we were so loose in the second half it was frightening. Yes, we recovered in the last 20 minutes but it was too late. We were too lazy in our play, too sloppy. There is no other way to describe it. We didn't do the dirty bits. You can't keep on having to score two or three goals to win games."
His players proved only that the Europa League matters to them – not least Suarez, who saw his shot blocked on the line by his own player, Jonjo Shelvey and then curled in a free-kick beneath the Kop. It was, like Shelvey's own header from Downing's superlative cross that opened the scoring, not nearly enough.
If Liverpool are to qualify from the group, they will need at least one win from the monied mercenaries of Anzhi Makhachkala. Anzhi's most precious signing, Samuel Eto'o, has won three European Cups but he will need to impress here to match the performance of Di Natale, a man who has won nothing except the undying affection of those who came from Italy's north east, carrying a banner with his face upon it that they held up like an icon. His battle with Jamie Carragher was a contest between two wonderful footballers in the twilight of their respective careers.
Di Natale had walked around Anfield before training on Wednesday night on the grounds that, approaching 35, he might not appear here again. Last night, he left some memories of his own.
The first was a free-kick that was met on the run by Medhi Benatia and brilliantly saved at full stretch by Pepe Reina on a night he equalled Ray Clemence's record of 80 European games by a Liverpool keeper. Reina's form has been questionable this season but that save was not.
Then, with the second half 30 seconds old, Di Natale took a square ball from the newly-introduced substitute, Andrea Lazzari, fractionally before Sebastian Coates and drove it into the net in front of his own supporters.
In the first half, Coates had narrowly avoided scoring Liverpool's opener with a muscular header from Downing's corner. Later, he was to score at the Anfield Road End, although this time it was past his own keeper as he went to deflect Lazzari's free-kick.
Then, Giovanni Pasquale sent a shot screeching into the corner of Reina's net after Di Natale had juggled the ball outrageously in the Liverpool area, another memory that lingered, although the one that would have stuck with Rodgers was how Antonio di Natale, whose name translates as "Tony Christmas", was allowed so many gifts.
Man of the match Di Natale.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee S Johannesson (Swe).
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