I want to sit here and say that Di Natale's last kick of the game shot going over instead of rattling the net is a sea change in Liverpool's luck and fortune. We won't know if that's the case for a few weeks or months, and that's if you even believe in that kind of thing (which we probably shouldn't). But the way things have gone for over two seasons now, I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking there was no way it could possibly miss. But it did, and Liverpool are through and as group winners. That fact defines everything that came up to it.
It wasn't pretty for a lot of it. The pitch was ugly and didn't help. The vacuous atmosphere made it just seem weird. Liverpool were nervy for the final 15-20 minutes. They missed their usual boatload of chances to make this much harder than it had to be, which is their M.O. in games and in the season overall. They had a lot of possession. In fact, it looked like a lot of other wins this year, namely at home to Anzhi, Southampton, Reading and a couple others.
But a team with a lot of kids went away from home in Europe, which is never easy, and got a win they had to have. There's no real reason to be unhappy with that or how it went down. If nothing else, it was valuable experience for those players, and the confidence gained could do wonders in the next few games.
There are some real sharks in the pot for the next round, although I'm not sure how the seeding works with the eight teams dropping from the Champions League, but Atletico Madrid, Napoli, and Inter are all second-placed teams. But it's something to look forward to, and we haven't had enough of those this year.
-This was Joe Allen back to his best. Tidy, energetic, always the pivot of what came about. The fatigue and weariness from the past few weeks wasn't evident, and this was after he had to shift from what was his original assignment, and that was playing ahead of Nuri Sahin.
-It didn't hurt that Jordan Henderson was having just as splendid a match alongside him. Aside from the goal, he was the box-to-box connector for everything, and his relentless pressure while defending stopped Udinese from gathering steam for long stretches. He's far from a perfect player, but he has his uses. And he was unlucky to not get a second goal, as that kind of contact on the full volley off a cross is usually an effort you see scuffed, whiffed, or scudded into Row J.
-Johnson and Enrique were again brilliant, and Carragher and Skrtel hardly troubled. But some of that has to go down to facing a back-up, only somewhat interested Udinese side.
-It's also good to see Liverpool find a way through with Suarez slightly off-color. Still should have scored though, shouldn't he have?
-I can see where Suso has been in and out of the lineup. Because he's so up and down. Dynamic for a stretch, invisible for others, lazy in the in between with giveaways or not tracking back. But the upside is so tantalizing.
-Stewart Downing was ok, and that's an upset.
It's more European nights to look forward to. It's an outside shot at some memorable nights to come. That makes me smile.