Reds tumble to Braga defeat

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.