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Match Preview: Liverpool v. SC Braga, 03.10.11

Liverpool are off to Portugal for their first leg clash with Braga.

Another slow spell on the fixture list is broken up by Liverpool's progression in the Europa League, with the Reds looking to build off their big win on Sunday and create some sort of consistency in their performances.

European competition isn't necessarily the best format for that to shine, though especially as they get deeper and deeper into the competition and people start using the word "cagey" to describe everything. There's a collection of bigger names left, with Manchester City, Porto, Villareal, Ajax, and Zenit St. Petersburg among the teams looking to advance to the quarterfinals, and plenty more that could challenge for a spot in Dublin.

Braga are among the possible challengers, and they'll come into tomorrow's match with only two Europa League matches under their belt. They finished third in their qualifying group in the Champions League, meaning they entered Europa competition in the round of 32. The Portuguese side lost the first leg of their tie with Lech Poznan 1-0 away, but overturned the result at home and ended up coming away with a 2-1 aggregate victory.

In terms of insight into the squad, I'm going to point to the Portugoal preview, which, as the title would imply, spends more time on the Braga side of things. Hit the link for the full preview; I've selected a bit that provides a look at their likely approach:

To borrow an analogy from another sport, Braga are awkward counterpunchers. The speed and natural width created by the presence of Alan, Paulo Cesar (or Helder Barbosa) and Silvio at right-back, combined with Hugo Viana’s excellent range of passing and the mobile presence of Lima through the middle, means that Liverpool will likely find themselves faced with a number of slick counter-attacks from the home side, who will surely know that they are unlikely to win the midfield battle against the likes of Lucas, Raul Meireles and Steven Gerrard. Braga’s defence coped admirably with Benfica’s onslaught on Sunday evening, and whilst they will be wary of the latter two (as well as the in-form Dirk Kuyt), the absence of Luis Suarez will undoubtedly reduce the potency of the Liverpool attack.

For Liverpool:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Wilson
Lucas Spearing
Maxi Meireles Cole

---The 24-man traveling squad is:

Jones, Johnson, Meireles, Suarez, Carroll, Cole, Pacheco, Kyrgiakos, Maxi, Kuyt, Lucas, Wilson, Carragher, Ngog, Reina, Spearing, Poulsen, Shelvey, Kelly, Skrtel, Hansen, Gulacsi, Flanagan, Mendy

---Of those names, Luis Suarez, Martin Kelly, and Jonjo Shelvey are ruled out, and it's missing Daniel Agger, Steven Gerrard, and Fabio Aurelio, the latter of whom tore his hamstring against United on Sunday. Andy Carroll's return is about the only piece of good news in the past week on the injury front.

---The aforementioned Carroll is expected to get more minutes tomorrow, although I don't think that translates to a start just yet. It was nearly impossible to get a read on his performance the other day, as he was clearly finding his legs after such a long spell on the sidelines. I was giddy that he won his first aerial challenge, but aside from that it was minutes for fitness. A few good touches; no real impact on the match, and that's just fine. Really excited to see what he's capable of when both he and the squad are 100%---for now I'm guessing we see him in the second half with Dirk Kuyt carrying most of the load up front early.

---No Gerrard and Suarez means the complexion of the midfield changes a bit. I think that means we get Meireles back centrally, possibly with Joe Cole and Maxi wider. I'd prefer that Dani Pacheco get the minutes over Cole, but it would be surprising if he did. There's also a chance we could see a four man midfield, which would then exclude Cole, but that's only the case if David Ngog or Andy Carroll gets a start up front. Christian Poulsen or Jay Spearing seem likely to fit somehow, and based off Poulsen's last "performance" I'm hoping for Spearing.

---With Agger and Aurelio ruled out, there's not a whole lot of options at the back. If Kenny Dalglish decides to use Jamie Carragher at right back, that allows for both Sotirios Kyrgiakos and Martin Skrtel to fit in with Glen Johnson on the left. My guess is we see Danny Wilson again, even though his last outing against West Ham was bumpy. I think Dalglish has a much steadier commitment to players through a rough patch, particularly the younger ones, and he's shown that he's not scared to use them at any time.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

The Quarry is a notoriously difficult (yet entirely awesome) place to play---Arsenal had a hell of a time there during Champions League qualifying, and Braga have only lost one match at home across the Champions and Europa Leagues. With Braga's apparent tendency to sit back and wait for the opportunities to counter, Liverpool can't get sucked in to pressing too much. That's sort of opposite to what we've wanted from Liverpool over the past few months, but I'm not sure that Liverpool have the speed at the back to cope with a side that's got pace on the break.

As usual in a two-legged tie, though, the most important thing is heading into the second leg at Anfield with a clear shot at advancing. Liverpool have shown that they're capable doing so, even if it requires turning over a deficit, and there's no reason to think that after tomorrow things will be any different.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

Unfortunately, I wouldn't be completely surprised by something similar to the first leg at Sparta. 0-0 heading to Anfield in an assault on yesterday's chorus of those proselytizing about the glory of playing football the right way.

Important to note that tomorrow is another relatively early kickoff, with kickoff at 6:00pm for those in the UK and 1:00 EST in the States. That translates to a noon hour kickoff for me, so I'll at least have a half of football to watch before I'm sucked back into work. Televised options are available, and Five will carry the match live in the UK with DirecTV or GolTV the only option stateside. Expect plenty of streams to be up and running as well, and we'll have links for those earlier in the day.

Hope you all have a nice Wednesday, and in the spirit of celebrating beloved TV shows, one of the very best scenes from one of the very best shows, the Wire (NSFW video and audio):

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