Liverpool may have made things harder than they had to be, but Brendan Rodgers' main focus following victory over Udinese was on what he felt had been a fantastic Liverpool performance.
They may have dropped the ball when given the opportunity to advance against Young Boys. And they may have seen three chances to put the game out of reach stopped by the Udinese keeper. And they may have needed the touch of good fortune that was Antonio Di Natale's shot with the final touch of the match whistling over the bar.
But in the end, they got the result that mattered. In the end, Liverpool advanced through to the knockout stages of the Europa League—and by, in the end, finishing top of Group A no less—with the help of more than a few youth and fringe players and under the guidance of a manager marking his first season in European competition.
"I thought we were fantastic tonight," was Brendan Rodgers' take on the match that in the end saw Liverpool secure a place in the upcoming round of 32. "We had two objectives coming into this stage of the tournament. Firstly, tonight was our tenth game in the tournament and qualification was important. Secondly, we wanted to give some experience to our younger players.
"We were in a difficult group with good teams—teams with good Champions League experience and one of the richest teams in the world. But the mentality of the team was very strong and our desire and belief was very strong. We won and that is good for our future."
Anzhi Makhachkala, the "one of the richest teams in the world" Rodgers spoke of, follow Liverpool on from the group stages, level on overall points but trailing the English club in points gained in the mini group of Anzhi, Liverpool, and
UdineseYoung Boys that ended level on ten points in Group A. Udinese, meanwhile, miss out on advancing after finishing last in the group, and for the Italian side it's a blow that follows on from missing the Champions League on penalties to end that competition's final qualifying round.
"It was always going to be a very tight group and you saw how close it finished. I said to the players I thought we could finish top of the group with a good result tonight. I'm absolutely delighted for them because they have been superb throughout the campaign, and their Premier League form is improving all the time [too]."
Still, Rodgers was quick to admit that advancing from the group stage had been more difficult than he might have hoped for—and that as they so often have in the past, Liverpool played at least some part in making things more difficult than they likely needed to be.
"We could have been more comfortable on the night," he added. "We had the chance to score another couple of goals [but] the reason we didn't was mostly down to the goalkeeping of Daniele Padelli. I don't think we could have done much more as he made some fantastic saves. [Then] at 1-0, and when you have a player of Di Natale's quality, it was always possible they could hurt us at the end."
All that really matters now though is that Liverpool are through. And as Rodgers pointed out in his post-match press conference, their advancement owes a great deal to Jordan Henderson, a player who at times has struggled to make his mark under Rodgers and who many have speculated could be on his way out of the club as soon as January if it helps the manager to bring in a new signing at a position of greater need.
"His industry tonight was superb," was Rodgers' view of the midfielder's night. "He is a great lad. He works very, very hard and he's come in over the last month or so and made a good contribution to the team. He was unfortunate not to get a second goal—the 'keeper made a wonderful save—but he's got that quality to arrive in the box and he's got a finish in him.
"I'm delighted with him and his hard work is paying off."
Hopefully, both for his own sake and for the good of the club, that hard work will continue to pay dividends in the coming months. And hopefully, now that they are through to the knockout rounds, Liverpool might consider not making things quite so difficult for themselves. Knowing Liverpool, though, no matter how far they get in the competition they probably won't take the easy route getting there.