Thursday, 17 March 2011

Liverpool vs. Braga tonight

It's the second leg of Liverpool's Europa League (formerly known as the UEFA Cup) tie against Braga tonight. The Portuguese team won the first leg 1-0 so, due to the wonders of the away goal rule, if they score at Anfield tonight then Liverpool will need to score three goals to win the tie overall. I rate Braga scoring one as very likely and Liverpool getting three much less so, which would mean 'Boa noite, Liverpool'.

The main reason I'm so pessimistic is that in the first leg, Liverpool created hardly anything. And here, in my view, are the two reasons for this:

Firstly, the team that Dalglish selected last week contained just one player whose favourite position is on the wing. And even he, Glen Johnson, was put on his unfavoured wing. You could just about say that Joe Cole is happy playing as a wide midfielder, so call it one and a half wing players.

Obviously, this meant that a lot of Liverpool's play went down the middle of the pitch and Braga bottled it up pretty well. I don't remember the Braga goalie having to make even one good save throughout the match. And seeing poor old Jamie Carragher 'galloping' down the right wing from the full-back position is either tragic or hilarious, depending on how charitable you're feeling.

The second point, again relating to team selection, is that most of the defensive players picked are, let's be honest, hoofers. Look at that back line – Johnson is fairly comfortable on the ball, granted, but then you had Skrtel, Kyrgiakos and Carragher. In Football Manager terms, I'd give each of them a passing rating of 7 at most. And then playing the defensive central midfield role was Christian Poulsen, also rubbish at passing. Braga took full advantage of this, I thought, pressurising the Liverpool defenders when they had the ball and forcing them to play a quick, long pass upfield. Liverpool playing route one? I thought we'd seen the last of that with Hodgson's departure, but I honestly don't think the players selected were capable of anything else. Those particular defenders just don't have the skill or composure to play a short, accurate forward pass under pressure.

So here's hoping that Daniel Agger is fit enough to start the match tonight (he's in the match squad). Agger is the one Liverpool defender who can bring the ball out of defence himself and pass it forward with some genuine hope of finding a team-mate. If Agger isn't playing, then I'll call a 1-2 final score. Braga will score first due to a Kyrgiakos defensive howler, Liverpool will hit back at some point in the second half (Andy Carroll scoring) but Braga will score a break-away goal as Liverpool commit more men forward in the final few minutes. If Agger does play then I'll go for 2-1 to Liverpool, still sending Braga through on away goals. I can't see Liverpool keeping a clean sheet if Braga press high up the pitch like they did in their home leg, and I doubt Liverpool will score three without Gerrard (injured) and Suarez (ineligible).

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