Europe offers Reds chance to maintain momentum

Posted by Ed White

Luis Suarez and Leon Barnett GettyImagesLuis Suarez was denied what appeared to be a clear-cut penalty against Norwich

Luis Suarez, should he be selected on Thursday evening, may be hoping European referee's cut him more slack than domestic ones. Not for the first time this season he was left on the floor at the weekend in the box claiming a rightful penalty, only to see the referee wave away his protests. It certainly appears in England he has become a severe victim of his reputation.

To defend his diving and playacting would be inaccurate and plain wrong. He gained a reputation, probably fairly, last season for antics no one wants to see on a football field. But referees have started this season by failing to give fairness in their decisions against the little Uruguayan. A mental tick is there, waiting in the referees head to say, "he's playacting". A foul is a foul, whoever it is against. You have to take the player and situation out of the equation and give it as you see it.

This ill-treatment has already prompted Brendan Rodgers to complain to referees chief Mike Riley and Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard have both spoken out in public about what they perceive as a difference in attitudes towards their teammate.

Suarez has already been booked for a dive this season, against Sunderland, in which replays show contact was made. There was probably not enough contact for a penalty but certainly enough for a yellow not to be awarded. Against Norwich at the weekend the issue came to a head as Leon Barnett bundled the striker over before chopping him down the neck with his arm. A clear penalty. But waved away by Mike Jones the referee.

I'm all for retrospective action for divers. If a player has dived, leave it and note it down and deal with it after the match. They should pass it to a panel of experts to decide whether to ban the guilty party. Surely it would be a more effective panel than the dubious goals panel, which only acts in separating fantasy football claims. A system like this would help referees rather than hinder them in their decision making process. They then just decide if it's a penalty or not, not whether the player involved has a history.

Suarez is unlikely to start Thursday's tie with Udinese. But Rodgers did suggest he and Gerrard could feature. One thing that is for certain, there will be changes to the side that played at Carrow Road. So far in the competition Rodgers has used 28 players in five matches. That is a phenomenal amount but it does show Rodgers has trust in his newly acquired squad. He picks a group of players to win the game, a team with the right blend of youth and experience and a side which will be able to attack their opponents.

The clash with the Italian side should give the academy products a third chance of the season to prosper. Rodgers has expressed his desire to see how his young stars can handle the Europa League no-pressure freezer, which they did admirably in their 5-3 defeat of Young Boys in the first match of the group.

Udinese will perhaps offer the sternest test yet though. Despite a poor start to the season, in which they have only mustered six points in six games, they are effectively a Champions League side brutally knocked into the second tier of European football thanks to a penalty shootout defeat against Braga.

They finished third in Serie A last season, a feat not to be discounted. But that form has since eluded them, apart from a 2-1 victory over AC Milan. They have yet to win on their travels this season and have drawn their last two league matches without a goal being struck. But Rodgers should not take them lightly.

They are a dangerous, flowing side and host a number of flourishing South American talents, as well as Antonio De Natale, who at 34-years-old stole in to rescue a point against the Russian billionaires Anzhi Makhachkala. Their system of bringing in expansive young players is something Liverpool could certainly share notes on, and hopefully the board could steal a cheat sheet in selling for profit.

Much has been spoken, wrote and discussed about Liverpool's youth prospects this season and this has been noticed nationally with Raheem Sterling and Andre Wisdom joining midfielders Jordan Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey into the latest England under 21 squad.

But, the experienced head of Jamie Carragher remains a key understated part in the development of Rodgers's Europa side. It might sound surprising to say that about a player who has increasingly shown his legs are stuck in treacle while defending. But in his transition out of the set-up, it is imperative he remains as the controller in ties involving the club's teenagers. His experience and leadership qualities can enhance the young players emerging around him.

At the same time, Carragher needs the young players. No longer can he chase balls back and perfectly time a long lunge to nip the ball away from an attacker. Instead, he needs the support of those around him to clean up in behind. Largely speaking this has happened through the impressive improvement of Sebastian Coates in 2012. The Uruguayan looked like a duck out of water in his first Carling Cup start last year, but has gradually adapted to his setting. He has emerged in front of Carragher in the central defensive pecking order and has flourished under the instructions of his veteran partner.

But, while praise is given to Coates, concerns linger to the confidence issues hanging over Pepe Reina, and to an extent Brad Jones too. It's my feeling that Reina should start against Udinese. He is clearly struggling so far this season, and he didn't exactly shine last season either. It is now eight games since the club's last clean sheet and, while that is not solely the goalkeeper's fault, the Spaniard has certainly looked suspect. His distribution is superb and his communication inside the box top notch, but when rushing out he looks panicky. He won't improve back to his full capability sitting in the stands during cup nights so get him between the sticks.

Thursday's tie should also offer Fabio Borini a sense of familiarity, playing against plenty of fellow countrymen. Despite receiving a tongue-lashing from some quarters about his start in a red, or black/white and orange, shirt, his movement off the ball has shown an initiative and goalscoring awareness which has been lacking over the last few years. He's clearly a quick thinker. Spotting space, and dissecting defenders to get there. He's played in an unfamiliar role so far to accommodate Suarez in Rodgers' 4-3-3 system but once given free rein at the top of the front trio a spark is expected to light.

It's astonishing that Liverpool will be aiming for a third successive victory for the first time in 12 months. That task is likely to rest a the feet of the young players. And with the freedom they have been given to express their talents against a side questioning their own form, there will be every chance of them achieving.

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