Braga lead 1-0 on aggregate
Round of 32:
Liverpool: 1-0 Sparta (h); 0-0 Sparta (a)
Braga: 2-0 Lech Poznan (h); 0-1 Lech Poznan (a)
Group Stage Results:
Liverpool: 0-0 Utrecht (h); 1-1 Steaua (a); 3-1 Napoli (a); 0-0 Napoli (a); 0-0 Utrecht (a); 4-1 Steaua (h)
Braga: 0-2 Shakhtar (a); 2-0 Arsenal (h); 1-0 Partizan (a); 2-0 Partizan (h); 0-2 Shakhtar (h); 0-6 Arsenal (a) [Champions League]
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-1 Braga (a); 3-1 United (h); 1-3 West Ham (a)
Braga: 1-0 Liverpool (h); 2-1 Benfica (h); 0-0 Naval (a)
Liverpool: Ngog 5; Gerrard 4; Kuyt 2; Cole, Jovanovic, Lucas 1
Braga: Lima 5; Alan 3; Echiejlie, Paulo Cesar 1
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (ITA)
Guess at a lineup:
Johnson Carragher Skrtel Wilson
Kuyt Meireles Maxi
Will he or won't he?
Dalglish on Carroll:
"He's fit and well, but what we're going to do with him remains to be seen. We either start with him or he comes on in the second half - it's up to us to make that decision."
That's a good a sign as any.
Otherwise, the injury 'crisis' has only slightly abated. Agger and Shelvey are back in training, with Agger a bit further along. Gerrard, Aurelio, and Kelly are definitely still out. I suspect Agger will continue to be handled with kid gloves, probably protected with an eye on Sunday's trip to Sunderland, but his return would be a vast boon. Without Agger, it's a choice between the back-line we saw last Thursday and Wilson coming in at left back. Kyrgiakos, responsible for the penalty, was a step slow against the likes of Lima and Alan, which tempts me into thinking Carragher will partner Skrtel, with Johnson back on the right.
Liverpool played both 4-2-3-1 and 4-2-2-2 in the last leg. We've seen a lot of the first formation in the Europa League (at Braga, both legs against Sparta, approximately half the matches under Hodgson), while the entrance of Carroll prompted the switch to 4-2-2-2 a week ago. If starting, Carroll could play as the lone striker, with the likes of Kuyt, Meireles, etc joining the attack from deep, or the man-mountain Geordie could partner the Dutchman with some combination of Meireles, Cole, and Maxi ostensibly on the flanks.
That Spearing joined Dalglish at the press conferences is as good a sign as any that he'll start. Crammed into an ineffective right-sided berth last Thursday, I'm hopeful he'll replace Poulsen tomorrow. The combination of Lucas and Spearing holding should be enough protection at Anfield whether the formation's 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2.
Like Liverpool, Braga had the weekend off, which has marginally aided their injury concerns. Skipper Vandinho could return from a month-long absence, while Kaka (Señor Elbow) and Alan picked up knocks in the last leg. Holding midfielder Custodio and left back Elderson Echiejile are still out.
Braga did incredibly well to take the game to a sub-par Liverpool in the first half last week, but will most certainly look to hold what they have at Anfield, reliant on defending deep (as they did once Carroll came on) and counter attacks through the fleet-footed Alan and Lima. If Liverpool play too openly, attacking midfielder Mossoro (who won the penalty in the last meeting) will have room to operate; Lucas and Spearing will have to mark the trequartista step for step. Conceding an away goal would be an absolute hammer blow, requiring Liverpool to score three.
Of course, that's exactly what happened when Liverpool came back to beat Olympiakos in 2004-05, with a late late late late late goal to qualifying for the knockout rounds, ultimately winning the tournament (as you may remember). Never count out Liverpool on European nights.