Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers suffered another Anfield nightmare as Udinese claimed a shock 3-2 win over the Reds in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday.
Rodgers has managed just one victory in his six home matches in charge of Liverpool and Udinese’s triumph on Merseyside condemned the Premier League club to their third successive defeat in front of their own supporters.
Jonjo Shelvey had given Liverpool a first-half lead, but the Italian side responded superbly after the interval as Antonio di Natale equalized, before a Sebastian Coates own-goal and a brilliant strike from Giovanni Pasquale put them in command.
Luis Suarez reduced the deficit, but Udinese survived a late barrage of Liverpool pressure to secure their first Group A victory.
“We were very good in the first half, but we had problems in the first 20 minutes of the second half, when we lost concentration and became lazy,” Rodgers said. “We are just disappointed that having controlled the game for long periods we gave away such poor goals. I thought the team worked very well, but we can’t have to score three, four or five goals to win games. That is the area we have to work on. We concede goals too easily.”
After a poor start to the Rodgers era, Liverpool had finally shown signs of improvement with successive victories over West Bromwich Albion and then Norwich City last Saturday, but this was an unwelcome return to the nervous displays that marred the opening weeks of the Reds’ season.
It did not help that Rodgers made eight changes to the side that thrashed Norwich, with Joe Allen, Glen Johnson and Pepe Reina the only survivors.
Suarez, Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and Martin Skrtel were all named as substitutes, and Liverpool, who had beaten BSC Young Boys in their opening Europa League group match, looked lost without their influential stars.
Liverpool had an early chance to take the lead when Coates miscued his header from Allen’s corner, but Udinese served notice of their threat as Reina was forced to make a pair of fine saves to deny Di Natale and Medhi Benatia.
Rodgers’ side went ahead in the 23rd minute when Stewart Downing whipped over a cross from the right and Shelvey found space to bury a powerful header past Zelijko Brkic, but even then Udinese always looked capable of troubling Liverpool’s frail defense and the Italians equalized just 35 seconds into the second half.
Substitute Andrea Lazzari whipped over a low cross and Italy striker Di Natale produced a fine first-time finish to give Reina no chance.
Rodgers responded by sending on Gerrard and Suarez for Jordan Henderson and Oussama Assaidi, but it was too late to break Udinese’s strangehold on the game.
Liverpool contributed to their own downfall in the 70th minute when Uruguay defender Coates misjudged his attempted clearance of Di Natale’s cross and only succeeded in heading the ball into his own net.
The Reds were in disarray at the back by then and Udinese took advantage two minutes later.
Di Natale was allowed time and space in the penalty area to lay the ball back to Pasquale, and he drilled a blistering shot past Reina.
Suarez gave Liverpool a lifeline in the 75th minute when he curled a sublime free-kick into the top corner, but Udinese stubbornly held on as Suarez, Johnson and Downing were all denied.