Reds tumble to Braga defeat
Liverpool failed to equal a club record 14-match unbeaten run in Europe with a 1-0 loss at Braga in their last-16 first-leg Europa League tie.
The location of the AXA Stadium is no stranger to displays of hard labour, having been carved into the face of the former Monte Castro quarry.
But Kenny Dalglish’s side were so devoid of movement at times they appeared to be taking inspiration from the huge chunks of rock still visible at one end of the unique ground.
They lacked pace and creativity without injured captain Steven Gerrard and the ineligible livewire forward Luis Suarez, who was instrumental in terrorising Manchester United in Sunday’s 3-1 victory.
Even a European debut for £35million record signing Andy Carroll after half-time could not turn things around after Brazilian Alan had converted a 17th-minute penalty.
The omens were there from the start with a side featuring three defensive midfielders – albeit with Jay Spearing patrolling the right side of a 4-2-3-1 – which still never looked comfortable or particularly solid.
They spent much of the opening quarter of an hour chasing possession, although the hosts never came close to threatening Jose Reina’s goal.
They were just getting into their stride, however, and in the 17th minute when Mossoro raced onto a through-ball to the right of the penalty area he was brought down by Sotirios Krygiakos’ mis-timed tackle.
The spot-kick was expertly slotted away by the Brazilian, who must have one of the least exotically-sounding names of all his countrymen.
Raul Meireles was given a hard time by Braga fans on his return to his homeland, having moved to Anfield from nearby Porto.
He had a rare shooting opportunity from a 25-yard free-kick but drilled his effort into the wall.
Pressure was growing on Liverpool though and centre-back Kaka, almost lived up to the reputation of his more illustrious namesake when he attempted a cheeky shot from a narrow angle after taking a corner but drilled the ball into the side-netting.
Left-back Silvio went even closer with a thunderous 35-yard volley which beat Reina but rattled back off the crossbar.
The visitors were crying out for some creativity and pace to be injected and to that end all seven substitutes were sent out to warm-up during the interval.
Ten minutes after the restart Carroll was sent on for Christian Poulsen, with Spearing dropping back into central midfield and Meireles moving to the right.
His early involvement saw him head over Meireles’ corner, although he was adjudged to have committed a foul in the act, and then had a shot deflected for a corner.
Carroll’s arrival certainly livened things up, with Braga unable to handle his aerial power; Liverpool’s problem was they were not proving him with decent enough crosses to threaten the hosts’ goal.
When Meireles did whip one in from the right it was Dirk Kuyt who controlled it and volleyed over the crossbar.
The closing stages became increasingly scrappy as the Reds pushed for an equaliser.
Carroll continued to win headers with confident regularity but they were mostly in non-threatening positions from Reina’s long punts up field, with absolutely no service coming from either flank with Cole cutting a particularly inconsequential figure.
Braga by no means look like a side who will pose a significant danger at Anfield in a week’s time but Liverpool’s greatest problems are of their own making.
They have scored once in five away matches in Europe this season. Their home record is much better, and they need it to be if they are to turn things around.