Liverpool: Europa League Destiny In The Balance
Liverpool's fate in the Europa League will be decided on Thursday night with the outcome very much still in the balance...
Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala are guaranteed a place in the Europa League knock-out stages but two of the other three sides in Group A remain in contention to join them.
Liverpool know they control their own destiny and victory away to Udinese will earn them progress in the competition. A draw and they will still qualify as long as surprise package Young Boys do not defeat Anzhi in the other game.
If the two sides finish level on points, as they are currently, Liverpool will progress courtesy of a better head-to-head record aided by their 5-2 victory in Switzerland on Matchday One.
Victory for both will even see the Reds top the group. In this permutation, with Anzhi, Young Boys and Liverpool therefore level on points, it would be the Swiss side who would miss out.
Part of the reason that Liverpool's future in the Europa League is still in doubt has been their failure to secure home victories over both Udinese and the entertaining Swiss outfit.
An inspired performance by maverick striker Antonio Di Natale even helped the Bianconeri come away with all three points on their visit to England back in October.
Reds winger and some-time left-back Stewart Downing, who has featured in every Europa League game this season, is one who feels the club's place in the next round should already be secure.
"I think we shouldn't be in this position anyway. Udinese at home - we were comfortable in the game and conceded sloppy goals," commented Downing to Liverpoolfc.com.
"Anzhi as well away from home, we played ever so well and conceded another sloppy goal. We shouldn't be in this position but we are - the only thing we can do is win our game...
"It would be nice to go through because there are some big teams who are going to drop out from the Champions League, it would be a good test for us. I'm hoping it goes our way."
Since their victory in L1, Francesco Guidolin's side have surprisingly been eliminated from the competition after suffering three straight defeats - twice to Young Boys and once to Anzhi.
Their domestic form has not been brilliant either and after a couple of seasons of Champions League qualification Udinese currently sit 9th. The 4-1 win over Cagliari on Sunday was their first in eight games.
Looking ahead to the contest, Liverpool assistant manager Colin Pascoe was in no doubt about the size of task still facing the Merseysiders.
The 47-year-old, who joined the club from Swansea City during the summer, told the official club website: "We'll be going out there to win.
"Of course, there'll always be that little bit of caution - at the start you can't go all out. We have to anticipate how they play and understand what their system is and make sure that we create the chances at the right time.
"We have watched them and studied them and they are a good side. They are dangerous when it comes to counter-attacking and they play 3-5-2. They will be tough opposition."
Team news wise, Brendan Rodgers must make do without Daniel Agger, Lucas Leiva and captain Steven Gerrard. The trio will not fly out with the rest of the squad as a result of niggles and illness. In the case of Lucas the decision is an understandable precaution after the Brazilian made his comeback from three months out in the 1-0 win over Southampton on Saturday.
Top scorer Luis Suarez is almost guaranteed to start as a result of his one-match suspension which rules him out of the Premier League clash with West Ham United on Sunday.
The hosts are expected to be without midfielder Andrea Lazzari and a trio of defenders in Andrea Coda, Pablo Armero and Maurizo Domizzi.
If the first clash between the two is anything to go by we should be in for an exciting and open contest but, as Pascoe alludes to, there is likely to be an element of caution from Liverpool. Udinese however, with nothing to play for, are free to express themselves and aided by some talented attacking players will almost certainly be positive from the off. It will be interesting to see how strong the side selected by Rodgers is after he previously stated the Europa League was not a priority. A nervy evening is probable and I have an uneasy feeling that we may need the other result to help us out. Vital Liverpool predicts a 2-2 draw.
Jones, Johnson, Enrique, Sahin, Suarez, Cole, Assaidi, Henderson, Coates, Downing, Carragher, Allen, Reina, Suso, Sterling, Shelvey, Coady, Skrtel, Wisdom.
Possible Starting X1
(5-3-1-1) Reina, Wisdom, Carragher, Skrtel, Johnson, Enrique, Allen, Sahin, Shelvey, Sterling, Suarez.
Did You Know?
Founded in 1896, Udinese is the second oldest club in Italy, after Genoa. That date makes them only four years younger than Liverpool who were founded in 1892.
The fixture between Liverpool and Young Boys is live on ITV4 (kick-off 6.00pm).
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