Written by David Tully for Live4Liverpool.com: I don’t think many Liverpool fans would have been that optimistic of getting a result in Braga after looking at the Reds starting line up before the match. Initially it looked to me that we were going to play a 4-5-1 formation with three holding midfield players in Christian Poulsen, Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva with Raul Meireles playing from the right hand side. As the match got going though it was clear that Liverpool were going to play a 4-4-1-1 formation with Meireles playing in behind Dirk Kuyt and Spearing taking the position on the right hand side. With Joe Cole playing on the left hand side too, the team had absolutely no width and we were always going to struggle in the first half with the personnel playing.
With a lack of width in midfield, you would expect the width to come from the full back areas but with Carragher playing right back, and rarely getting forward, while Glen Johnson also favoured to come inside onto his right foot when he decided to make forward runs, there was rarely an outlet for the Reds to get any creative spark going forward. Playing Spearing wide right, Cole cutting in from the left and two defensive midfielders in Lucas and Poulsen in the middle meant Dirk Kuyt only really had Raul Meireles in close contact and the Portuguese midfielder had a pretty poor night by his standards, giving the ball away on countless occasions as he became increasingly isolated.
So what did we learn from the display? Never ever play all three of Lucas, Poulsen and Spearing in the same team. Away from home in Europe you can get away with having two holding midfielders but to have all three playing was never going to work in my view and Kenny Dalglish should make sure in future matches that there is a more positive intent in away European fixtures, more akin to the attitude taken in the Premier League. Perhaps Kenny feels that the Europa League is not top priority as otherwise I see no reason why, with a week to go to Liverpool’s next match, he didn’t pick Maxi Rodriguez from the start instead of Poulsen or Spearing to give us at least another attacking threat. A midfield of Cole and Maxi on the wings with Meireles the most attacking central midfielder ahead of Spearing and Lucas, would have made more sense.
Credit must go to Kenny for recognizing that the tactics were not working out and in the second half, the introduction of Andy Carroll and a switch to 4-4-2 had an instant impact on the team’s play. The side was instantly more positive with Kuyt, Carroll, Meireles and Cole all interacting much more effectively, and the Reds could have snatched an equaliser in the second half. Liverpool’s new number 9 Andy Carroll had a promising 35 minutes and held up the ball as well won nearly every header.
The only concern will of course be to get the balance right from going route one to keeping the ball on the floor. Carroll gives the team an added dimension but at the same time it is imperative we don’t become one dimensional in how we use the 22 year old. In Europe he will frighten the life out of opposition defences and he will be crucial to Liverpool’s progression in the competition. Continental defences seem to have real problems with aerial threats and Kaka’s cynical elbow was testament to the amount of carnage Carroll had created in such a short period of time.
The Reds should progress to the quarter finals with a convincing win at Anfield, but after two very poor away displays in a row in Europe, a tactical rethink maybe in order for when they next face European opponents.
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