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Carroll the shining light in another dim Euro performance

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Braga 1-0 Liverpool
Thursday, 10th March 2011

The performance of 35 million pound man Andy Carroll was the solitary plus point from another arduous European away day for Liverpool in this season’s Europa League.

In keeping with most of this season’s Europena campaign – away from home in particular – this was one to forget. Liverpool have rarely approached European away ties on the front foot this season. Instead , too often treating it as a damage reduction exercise and placing the emphasis on winning the tie at Anfield. Braga away was no different.

Liverpool looked desperately short on firepower and attacking intent, until Carroll’s second half introduction belatedly sparked the Reds into life.

An 18th minute penalty from Braga’s Alan, after Sotirios Kyrgiakos had conceded a certain penalty, scuppered Liverpool’s intentions to protect the clean sheet. Whilst a markedly cautious formation and approach to the game deprived Liverpool’s travelling support of the sort of attacking play to suit the dramatic setting of Braga’s AXA Stadium, during the opening 45 minutes.

A change in emphasis after the break, followed by a change of shape and the introduction of Carroll at the expense of the ineffective Poulsen, improved the spectacle. However, even the arrival of Liverpool’s new number 9 – or should that be 29 – could not quite inspire a potentially valuable away goal.

In the grand scheme of things, Dalglish and his side will probably view this as a manageable, if not entirely acceptable, result. The Reds will still be fancied to get a result at home against a Braga team who’s form to date suggests that they are a tougher beast to tame on their on turf than on their travels.

Although, the lack of an away goal leaves Liverpool’s European fate – an with it the last chance of tangiable success this campaign – very much in the balance. If the Portuguese were to score in the second leg – and they are capable of acquitting themselves to be a threat on the break – then Liverpool would need at least three.

A midfield triumvirate of Jay Spearing, Christian Poulsen and Lucas Leiva left Liverpool severely short of creativity and mobility in the centre of the pitch during the opening half. Whilst front man Dirk Kuyt was often a very isolated figure and received minimal service in the first half from a team short of any semblance of width.

Braga’s European pedigree has grown considerably having already achieved some creditable results against Arsenal, Celtic and Sevilla in northern Portugal. And the responsibility was always likely to be on the Portuguese to make the most of their home advantage – with the second leg still to come.

Liverpool started tentatively and Braga took advantage, albeit from the penalty spot, with an early opening goal. Kyrgiakos’s challenge on Mossoro was rather clumsy and just inside the penalty area. The Greek could have few complaints when the referee pointed to the spot. One of Braga’s large Brazilian contingent; Alan stepped up to shot emphatically beyond Pepe Reina.

Liverpool were largely sound defensively. However, a stunning 30-yard effort from left-back Silvio almost decisively doubled the advantage.

Mossoro failed to connect with a free-kick delivered into the box. But the ball was cleared to Silivo, who’s powerful effort had Reina beaten only to come back off the crossbar.

The Reds were wasteful in possession and struggling to make any inroads into the Braga half. Joe Cole was again ineffective on the left. Whilst Kuyt simply did not provide the presence required as a lone man up front.

Enter Mr. Carroll. From enjoying the most leisurely of evening for the opening 55 minutes, the Braga central defence suddenly had a very real threat to contend with.

Merely the presence of the big man in attack provided a much needed extra-dimension to Liverpool’s attack. Carroll’s aerial ability, in particular was a persistent threat to the home sides effort to defend their advantage. The forward can not have lost a single header during his 35 minute cameo.

Carroll had an immediate impact when his header across goal was just out of the reach of Kuyt. A left-foot effort from Carroll, also, took a deflection and looped just wide of the far post.

It was Dirk Kuyt who came closest to delivering a much-needed but ever more unlikely away goal, though. With Liverpool a more regular presence in the final third of the pitch, Kuyt chested down Raul Meireles’ pass and saw a very well executed half-volley tipped over by Artur.

Braga were resorting to any means possible to combat the physical threat of Carroll. And defender Kaka should have seen red for a cynical and premeditated elbow into the face of the striker. The Brazilian failed to demonstrate the elegance of his more illustrious namesake, as he floored Carroll. The referee failed to act.

The Portuguese side increasingly resorted to protecting their advantage and the game somewhat petered out as a contest.

Another lacklustre away showing has left the Reds was all to do during the return leg. The likely presence of Andy Carroll in the starting line-up, though, should hopefully make Liverpool a wholly different proposition at Anfield in a weeks time.

Man of Match
His introduction made a definite difference. Actually transformed Liverpool into something resembling an attacking threat.

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