Liverpool headed out to Portugal yesterday for their Europa League round of 16 First Leg clash against SC Braga without talismanic captain Steven Gerrard. The England midfielder was left behind to receive treatment on his troublesome groin at the club’s Melwood training facility.
Gerrard, who has only recently returned to the side following the initial injury, has been lacklustre in Liverpool’s last two Premier League games, the defeat to West Ham at Upton Park and Sunday’s victory over Manchester United. The Reds medical staff therefore took the decision to keep Gerrard at home and allow him to be assessed further.
Liverpool boss Kenny Dalglish used the pre-match press conference to explain to the waiting media the reasons behind Gerrard’s absence. Allaying fears of a possible reoccurrence of the injury, Dalglish said:
Whilst Gerrard’s injury worries persist, there is much better news on Andy Carroll. The £35m record signing made his long awaited debut in the 3-1 win over Manchester United on Sunday – a 20 minute cameo which topped off a memorable day. Dalglish was quick to praise the Anfield medical staff, and Carroll himself for the patience and dedication shown in his recovery process: “He’s been fantastic in the way he has responded to the medical people’s advice and the way they’ve gone through the recuperation process,” Dalglish told the media.
The Liverpool boss went on to add that despite a desire to see him play, there was no way they would hamper his recovery by rushing him into action too quickly: “We’re as desperate to get him on the pitch as he is. But we’ll be responsible. The games are part and parcel of his fitness and recuperation, and we’ll be as responsible as the medical people have been.”
With Liverpool struggling to break down Sparta Prague in the previous round, and with the new darling of the Kop Luis Suarez ineligible, the onus to score goals may fall on the Geordie striker’s shoulders. Dalglish has no doubts that Carroll will be able to deliver, if called upon: “He is a massive player and I suppose the fact we put him on the (Europa League squad) list at the beginning of February when we had to put names forward shows we had great faith in him being fit and great faith in Andy,” said the Liverpool boss.
Thankfully Dirk Kuyt showed himself to be in great goal-scoring form on Sunday, his hat-trick a supreme display of goal-poaching. The Dutchman can expect to line up in the striking role for tonight’s first leg, possibly as a lone front man, as Liverpool look to take something back to Anfield for the second leg in a week’s time. Liverpool will probably play Danny Wilson at left-back, following the hamstring injury sustained by Fabio Aurelio on Sunday.
Probable line-up: Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Wilson; Lucas, Spearing, Cole, Meireles, Maxi; Kuyt