Europa League Review

A sublime performance by Antonio Di Natale inspired Udinese to a shock victory at Anfield against Liverpool in the second round of group games in Europa League. The veteran Italian striker scored one and assisted the other two goals in a 26 minute spell after the break, thereby cancelling out Jonjo Shelvey’s first half opener. In desperation, Brendan Rodgers introduced his big guns in Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling during the second half but in spite of Suarez pulling one back late on, the Italian side held out for a memorable win on the night.

After the game, Rodgers while appreciating the ‘quality’ display by Di Natale was scathing in the assessment of his own team’s performance.

“I thought we were lazy. We were loose, lazy and sloppy. Simple as that. It is a lesson – you have to earn the right to win the game but we didn’t do that at the beginning of the second half. Maybe we thought the game was too comfortable but at this level it never is. We need constant reminders and constant work that you have to maintain concentration and earn the right to win. You can’t keep having to score two, three or even five goals just to win a game.”

In other action, defending champions Atlético de Madrid made it two wins out of two but were made to sweat against Viktoria Plzeň as a late goal in added time by Cristian Rodríguez ensured that the plucky Czechs left Vicente Calderon empty handed. Olympique Lyonnais and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk are the only other teams left with a 100% record in the competition as they both notched up high scoring victories against Hapoel Kiryat Shmona and AIK Solna respectively. The biggest upset on the night occurred in Hungary where minnows Videoton (a club named after a local electronics company) stunned Sporting Lisbon 3-0.

Nasri left out of France squad

Samir Nasri will have to wait a while longer before he can return to the national fold after France manager Didier Deschamps decided against including the controversial midfielder in the squad for the upcoming friendly against Japan and the crucial World Cup qualifier against Spain. Nasri has served the three match ban handed to him by French Football Federation for a number of misdemeanors during this summer’s European Championship. But surprisingly Deschamps snubbed Nasri and instead has opted to recall Toulouse midfielder Moussa Sissoko, whose last appearance for Les Bleus was back in 2009.

Nasri playing for France

A sight we won’t be seeing soon

Deschamps explained his decision to overlook the Manchester City midfielder on the basis that ‘time was not right’ to call him back to the squad. Another player who seems to be paying a hefty price for disciplinary reasons is Hatem Ben Arfa. Although no bans were imposed on the Newcastle winger after his outburst at the then coach Laurent Blanc after France’s match against Sweden in the Euros, his continued international exile indicates the reluctance on Deschamps’ part to include potentially disruptive elements in his squad.

Refs ask Reading to appeal more

In one of the most sensational claims that we will come across the season, Reading manager Brian McDermott has stated the reason why the newly promoted Premier League club have got the rough end of the stick with regards to multiple refereeing decisions this season is due to lack of appealing on his players’ part; bizarrely, he was made to know of this fact by match officials in two distinct cases.

In the game against Newcastle, last Sunday, Demba Ba equalized for the Magpies by blatant use of arm while earlier in the season, at Stamford Bridge, Fernando Torres tapped in from a clear offside position to give home side the lead against the Royals. On both occasions, McDermott was apparently informed by refereeing representatives that his players’ on-pitch ambivalence towards the decisions prevented the right call from being made.

“My concern slightly, or more than slightly, is the conversations with two people now; the match delegate at the Chelsea game said that my players didn’t appeal for the (Fernando) Torres offside goal, and the fourth official said to my goalkeeping coach that only two of my players appealed (against Newcastle). For me it is very difficult to take that, what are we asking? If we appeal for every decision we might get one or two?

In a season marred by a number of disenchanted managers lamenting about the deplorable standard of refereeing in the league, this surely is the most disconcerting complaint of the lot. McDermott himself sounded reasonable enough as he admitted ‘the last thing’ he wants his players to do is ‘to start trying to referee the game’. Still, after having fined Wigan manager Roberto Martinez for his comments on the refereeing display in a match at Old Trafford, it will be interesting to see how FA reacts to this latest round of accusation.

Injury concerns easing for United

In his customary pre-match press conference on Friday, Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed reports that Chris Smalling has started training this week at Carrington. Even though the game against Newcastle on Sunday will come too soon for the England international, the news will still sound as music to the ears of millions of Red Devil supporters who has seen their team struggle defensively in the past few weeks due to a spate of injuries.

In other positive news on the injury front, the trio of Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are all set to return to the squad for the crunch match against the Magpies while winger Ashley Young is expected to start training during the international break.