Europa exit is a wake-up call for Dalglish’s Liverpool
One-dimensional approach against Braga at Anfield cost Kenny Dalglish's side, writes Michael Owen
Liverpool principle owner John W Henry watched from the director’s box as the Reds played out a goalless draw with Portuguese outfit Braga on Thursday night, putting an end to their Europa League run for another year.
Despite going into the game with a one-goal disadvantage there was a belief around Merseyside that Kenny Dalglish’s men would be able to overturn the deficit at Anfield – a hope bolstered by the inclusion of Andy Carroll in the starting line-up, marking the £35m striker’s first start for Liverpool since arriving from Newcastle in January.
Dirk Kuyt, Joe Cole and Maxi Rodriguez all accompanied Carroll in the final third of the pitch while the in-form Raul Meireles featured in a slightly deeper role to help support an attacking Liverpool line-up clearly sent out to cause as much trouble as possible for a Braga defence that managed to keep a clean sheet when the sides met last week.
But despite sending out such a forward thinking line-up Reds boss Dalglish will have been disappointed with the manner in which his side approached the game.
Liverpool played long-ball and slow-paced football often associated with the Roy Hodgson era rather than the pass-and-move approach that has been on display against teams such as Chelsea and Manchester United under Dalglish.
Cole and Carroll both started well, but ultimately a lack of match fitness let them down when Liverpool were pushing for a goal in the latter stages of the game.
Kuyt and Rodriguez rarely threatened going forward, with the former caught offside on too many occasions, much to the frustration of the Anfield faithful.
At the back the Reds looked solid, though full-back Danny Wilson often looked shaky in his makeshift position. And while Martin Skrtel and Jamie Carragher played well as a defensive unit their distribution of the ball was often poor, with both choosing to loft ineffectual long balls towards Carroll, who had little luck in making anything of the speculative passes.
Neither Meireles nor Lucas could make up for the drive and dynamism that Steven Gerrard brings to the centre of the park while the missing Martin Kelly -who has impressed so much that an England call-up has been rumoured -would have undoubtedly have added an extra dimension to the Reds’ counter-attacking moves.
Up front the creativity and agility of Luis Suarez, who was one of the key players in Liverpool’s recent win over Manchester United, was sorely missed as the Kuyt -Carroll partnership provided little to suggest that Liverpool can cope without their star players.
The result is unlikely to alter the mind of Henry and his colleagues at Fenway Sports Group over who should be given the manager’s job on a permanent basis. In just three months Dalglish has proved he is the right man for the job.
It is likely, however, to highlight the rebuilding project that FSG has bought into at Anfield.
Significant investment will once again be needed at Anfield in the summer to ensure Liverpool have the strength in depth to once again challenge for a place in the Champions League.