Liverpool qualified for the knock-out stages of the Europa League with an assured performance against a strong Udinese team, with Jordan Henderson’s first-half strike cementing the Reds’ place in the last 32 of the competition.
Brendan Rodgers’ side did not have things all their own way, however, but the win against their Italian opponents, who finish bottom of the group and had Giovanni Pasquale sent off late on for a second yellow card, sees them top the group after Anzhi Machackala lost against Young Boys in Russia.
Despite a positive start from a Udinese side with nothing to play for, which left captain Antonio Di Natale on the bench, Liverpool soon began to take control of the game in Italy, knowing that they needed to win to be certain of qualifying for the Europa League knock-out stages.
Jonjo Shelvey had the first chance for the Reds, just seconds after coming on as an early substitute for Nuri Sahin, volleying wide from the edge of the area with his first chance since joining the action.
Suso saw an effort palmed away by former Liverpool loanee Daniele Padelli, before Udinese had their first clear chance of the match, as Mathias Ranegie saw his looping header drift wide.
Minutes later Pepe Reina was forced to tip Roberto Pereyra’s speculative curing effort from distance over the bar, before Liverpool managed to calm their nerves by opening the scoring.
Talismanic striker Luis Suarez saw his header from Stewart Downing’s corner fall kindly to Suso, with the young Spaniard doing well to lay the ball back to Henderson, whose drilled effort found its way into the back of net after deflecting through Padelli’s legs.
The travelling Liverpool fans soon thought their side had a second, when Glen Johnson was on hand to tap home Stewart Downing’s cross, only for it to be ruled out for an offside call against the ex-Aston Villa midfielder.
Diego Fabbrini had a tame effort easily saved by Reina, before Suarez had two chances before the interval to add to the Reds’ lead.
The Uurguayan first shot wide from an acute angle with Downing and Shelvey waiting for the cross in the box, before he saw an acrobatic overhead kick saved by Padelli from point-blank range in the last action of the first half.
Brendan Rodgers’ passing philosophy was evident as the game wore as Liverpool did well to hang onto possession, with Suso and Suarez both wasting chances to extend the Reds’ lead, shooting wide when in good positions.
Ranegie saw another header drift over the bar as Udinese chased an equaliser, before Padelli was forced into making two great saves, first pushing away Henderson’s first time side-foot volley, before denying Suarez, tipping over the Liverpool striker’s effort after he had done well to jinx his way through three Udinese challenges.
Liverpool’s chances of victory were boosted after Pasquale was sent off late on for a second yellow card, and, despite late pressure from Udinese, as Di Natale was introduced to the action with five minutes remaining and saw a volleyed effort skim the bar with the last kick of the game, the Reds held on to secure a famous victory and seal qualification.