Udinese vs. Liverpool: Improving Reds Will Earn Win and Place in Knockout Round
For Liverpool, a win on Thursday will mean more than three points and another notch in the win column.
All the Reds need to advance to the knockout stage of the Europa League is a win over Udinese, and it's a victory the team should earn given its brighter play of late.
Of course, in a season that started with such disappointment, the victory would mean something even more than simply advancing to the next round—it would signal that this Liverpool side is finally starting to put the pieces together under Brendan Rodgers and is truly rounding into form.
It won't be easy, of course. Udinese won the first meeting between the sides, 3-2, and the Italians are led by the fiery and ever-dangerous Antonio Di Natale up top. However, Liverpool has shown improvement of late, and Rodgers feels the style they are starting to embody is befitting of the club's history.
From Ben Gladwell of UEFA.com:
Yet in recent weeks there have been signs that his energetic style–featuring several youthful protagonists–is bearing fruit. On Thursday, in northern Italy, Liverpool have the chance to prove it.
"We're looking to play a certain style, a style accustomed to Liverpool and their great history," said the 39-year-old. "Pass and move, work as a collective unit–that is Liverpool, and we're looking to repeat what has happened in that great history."
Liverpool have shown flashes of fantastic play this season, but can't seem to maintain that level. There was the 2-2 tie against Manchester City and the 1-1 tie against Chelsea. There was the 3-0 win over Wigan and the 5-2 scoring fest against Norwich City.
For much of the year, Luis Suarez has been spectacular, carrying the Reds as the only dangerous finisher on the team. Youngster Raheem Sterling has shown bursts of unlimited potential, while Joe Allen has proven to be an excellent addition to the squad after his transfer from Swansea City.
While the rest of the team has shown glimpses of better days to come, it will take a full-team effort for Liverpool to knock off the Italian side.
Which team wins?
Normally, I wouldn't bet on Liverpool in this game. It's an away tilt, they lost the first leg and, frankly, I don't trust the Reds this year.
However, I think this is a "getting over the hump" game for Liverpool. I think this is the game they put everything together and take a step forward, gaining confidence for the remainder of the Europa League and Premier League season.
I'm going on a limb and predicting a 2-1 victory. Brighter days are ahead for the Reds.
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