It didn’t have to be like this. Had Liverpool managed to hang on to a 2-1 lead over Young Boys at Anfield two weeks ago, qualification for the knock-out stages of the Europa League would have been secured and their final match away to Udinese would have been the dead rubber to end all dead rubbers, leaving Brendan Rodgers to field the kit man, the tea lady, the physio and Joe Cole.
But true to form, Liverpool have made things as difficult as they can for themselves in Europe. A late equaliser for the Swiss side has left the Reds in quite a peculiar position as they aim to get through to the last 32 of Europe’s second-tier club tournament.
Currently second in the group, level on points with Young Boys but ahead of them courtesy of their superior head-to-head record, a win for Rodgers’ side over bottom-of-the-group Udinese at Stadio Friuli would guarantee their progress, but after that it gets a bit silly.
Obviously, if ‘Pool better Young Boys’ result they will go through and likewise for the Swiss. Similarly, if both teams draw, Liverpool will be in the next round.
Yet if both teams were to lose, Young Boys would leapfrog Liverpool into second because both sides would be joined by Udinese on seven points and Young Boys would win out on the head-to-head battle between the three teams. Confused? Well, Liverpool can make it simple by winning their match.
Of course, over recent years, Liverpool have become used to needing to win final group-stage matches to prolong their stay in Europe, but it is a sign of how far the Merseyside club have fallen that where once it was a Steven Gerrard-inspired victory over Olympiakos en route to Champions League glory, these days they are slogging it out against mediocre sides with Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing.
That much shows that Rodgers has not always taken the tournament too seriously. Youngsters and fringe players have been given game time, especially away from home, as the key men have been rested for the Premier League, and despite the former Swansea manager pledging his team will be strong in Italy, there will still be a host of players missing.
For that reason alone, the 91/100 on a Liverpool win is no kind of price. But then Udinese are also out, so is 27/10 on the Italians a tempter either? The draw is 13/5 and this is probably the best price in the 3-way market.
Udinese have won just two of the last ten in all competitions as they endure their worst season for several years. Currently ninth in Serie A, you have to question how much motivation Francesco Guidolin’s side will have for a match that means nothing at all to them in front of, in all probability, a sparse crowd at Stadio Friuli.
That should work in Liverpool’s favour, but with no away wins in five, I don’t want to be taking an odds-on quote, especially with fringe players in the team.
There is, however, one notable exception to that. Luis Suarez is set to start his first away European match for Liverpool against the Italians due to the fact he is suspended for the Reds’ weekend trip to West Ham United after collecting a fifth booking of the season against Southampton last Saturday.
And at 11/10 to score at any time, he surely has to be backed to find the net, with winnings of £42 on offer for punters successfully doing so with their free £20 bet after joining bwin.com.
The Uruguayan has 13 goals this season and it is often the case that if he doesn’t score, Liverpool struggle to do so, but he can once again fire for the Reds.
Up front against a team that haven’t kept a clean sheet in ten games, letting in 21 goals in that period, Suarez could have a field day and I would rather be on the 11/10 that he scores than the 91/100 Liverpool win.
Suarez is 4/1 to score first and I wouldn’t put anyone off that price either. Whether the former Ajax man’s contribution will be enough to send Liverpool through remains to be seen.