Liverpool's youngsters set for Udinese test
European Football Headlines
(AP Photo/PA, Chris Radburn) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE)
By STEVE DOUGLAS
AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) Liverpool is relying on its youngsters to get the club through to the knockout stage of the Europa League.
On current evidence, it could well be a successful policy.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers saw a team comprising youngsters and fringe players begin the group-stage campaign with a pulsating 5-3 win at Swiss side Young Boys two weeks ago.
So happy has Rodgers been with the development of young players such as Spanish playmaker Jesus Fernandez Saez, right back Andre Wisdom and winger Raheem Sterling that he has included them for Premier League games, too.
Next for the youngsters is Udinese at Anfield, the standout match of 24 in the Europa League on Thursday.
"They have played with no fear, but I always say young players will run through a barbed wire fence for you. You have seen that in games," Rodgers said. "For me, status does not matter. It is what you are like as a player. It doesn't matter how much money you have come for. I will play a 17-year-old if he fights and he has quality."
Of all the youngsters, Sterling's progress has been most impressive.
Seen as simply a star of the future after some promising substitute appearances under Kenny Dalglish last season, he has played in every league game so far under Rodgers and has even earned a call-up by Roy Hodgson to the England squad.
Fernandez Saez, commonly known as "Suso," and Wisdom - a scorer against the Swiss club Young Boys - are the latest to graduate to the senior team, making their first league starts in the 5-2 thrashing of Norwich on Saturday. That was Liverpool's first league win of the season after the club's worst start to a campaign in more than a century.
"I've been very, very pleased by the impact they've made," Rodgers said.
Leading players such as Luis Suarez and Steve Gerrard are likely to be rested for Thursday's match against a Udinese side which is also languishing near the bottom of the domestic standings.
A 0-0 home draw to Genoa left Udinese fifth from last in Serie A, with coach Francesco Guidolin leaving out star striker and captain Antonio Di Natale for disciplinary reasons.
"There wasn't a rift between Toto and I," Guidolin said. "But I am someone who has to always try to steady the ship and there are rules which have to be respected. I won't say anything else on the matter."
Udinese started its European campaign with a 1-1 home draw with Anzhi Makhachkala of Russia, which is at home to Young Boys in Group A.
Defending champion Atletico Madrid will aim to follow its 3-0 win at Hapoel Tel-Aviv with another victory, this time at home to Viktoria Plzen.
Diego Simeone's squad is undefeated in the Spanish league, winning five straight mainly thanks to the goalscoring prowess of Radamel Falcao.
However, the Colombia striker missed the 1-0 win over Espanyol on Sunday with a left leg injury and is a doubtful starter for Thursday.
"From the very beginnings we have been working with the same idea, to be competitive in every game, and that is what we are doing," Simeone said. "Above all, I am pleased by the strength of the team as a group."
Inter Milan will warm up for the city derby with AC Milan on Sunday with a trip to Azerbaijan to play Neftchi, buoyed by a weekend 2-1 win over Fiorentina - labeled "the best game of the season" by Inter president Massimo Moratti.
The game against Neftchi, "certainly doesn't fall at a very good time but that's been said since the beginning," Moratti said. "We have to go there."
Wesley Sneijder is out of the match with a thigh injury, which will also see the Netherlands midfielder miss the derby.
As for the other leading teams in the Europa League, Napoli, which is second in Serie A, visits PSV Eindhoven in Group F and fellow Italian side Lazio hosts NK Maribor.
Boosted by a 3-2 win at Manchester United in the Premier League on Saturday, Tottenham hosts Panathinaikos and is aiming to build on the 0-0 draw it had with Lazio to start Group J.
Newcastle is at home to Bordeaux in Group D and French team Lyon travels to Hapoel Kiryat Shmona.
Updated October 2, 2012