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Liverpool host Udinese in first group game at Anfield in forever.
I guess it's a pretty apt description of how far Liverpool have fallen that the fact that an Italian team with only a modicum of tradition and name-recognition visiting Anfield is enough to get me excited. It used to be Juve, or Roma, or Milan. Now, it's Udinese. So it goes.
But anyway, Liverpool have what feels like a real European game at home today. No offense to Gomel or Hearts, but those always felt like warmups or preseason (and in the case of Hearts not a very encouraging one). Now that this is a group stage and a genuine team showing up, you feel like if nothing else Liverpool are well and truly back in Europe.
But now that the pomp is out of the way, the simple task is to keep the momentum from a solid performance despite the result against ManUre and the thrashing of Norwich rolling (with the kids outplaying West Brom in between). Because of that, and a international break looming, you wonder if Brendan Rodgers won't name a slightly stronger lineup than he might have done.
In the back, with Andre Wisdom already having played twice in a week and any other option at right back hurt, Glen Johnson is probably going to start. Coates and Carragher have started all the cup games, don't see why that will change here. Especially with Daniel Agger literally having broken parts on him now. Left back it would seem that it has to be Jack Robinson, unless Jose Enrique is over the sniffles and wants to fight for his place again. It could also see Stewart Downing make a start in the back, but with Udinese's goofy formation and attack that doesn't seem likely. I suppose Rodgers could get goofy and shunt Carragher out to right back to get Johnson back to left back with Skrtel coming in to the middle. But that hasn't happened before and I don't see it here.
Midfield could be anything. It's a pretty safe bet Jonjo Shelvey will play as he's still domestically suspended. It is likely Jordan Henderson will play something of the anchor role, or as much as he can. The really adventurous way to do this would be to put Suso as the most advanced forward, but he's more likely to be up top. Sahin started the last two games, he probably moves to the bench to wait for Sunday's league game. Because it's at home, could Joe Allen get a run out for this? Two home games does make that easier, with Gerrard waiting on the bench in case a result needs to be grabbed late.
Up front, I highly doubt Luis Suarez would start but it wouldn't be a shock either. After all, he's scoring now and you might just want to ride that while you've got it. If he doesn't, Borini is coming back into the side either way but would go through the middle with Suso or Sterling on one side. Assaidi looks set for a start as well, although I suppose Downing could get a game. But I don't see it. Again, two home games make it more likely to see someone closer to the main 11.
Udinese come in to this having beaten Milan not so long ago, but backing that up with two straight scoreless draws. How very Italian (and might I add how disappointing it is that Peter Brackley won't be calling this so we can all enjoy the way he says "Oood-dinese." Was a pleasure back when he regularly called Serie A matches). Main weapon Antonio Di Natale is fighting with the manager, not for the first time, and probably won't be a start here. And that's fine, because I don't think anyone wanted to see Carragher dealing with that.
This and the return fixture may be the only time Liverpool see a team that plays a genuine 3-5-2. It makes you salivate at what their normal three attackers can do against only three Italian defenders, if they can keep the wingbacks pinned back. Pablo Armero is one that will especially have to be watched carefully. But just the sheer awkwardness of this formation and the unfamiliarity of what to do against it could provide some problems.
The win in Bern means that Liverpool only have to hold serve at Anfield to progress. This is probably the toughest one to get to do so. But it's still at home, and you should win at home.
This will also be your gamethread. Have at it.