Carroll's presence pivotal for Liverpool
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has claimed the return to fitness of Andy Carroll could prove pivotal in the final three months of the season. Carroll is in line for his European bow for the Reds against Braga in Portugal tomorrow, having made his long-awaited debut as a substitute in Sunday's 3-1 win over Manchester United.
The club have been careful to manage the England international's injury, rejecting the chance to rush him back early in the wake of Fernando Torres' departure to Chelsea. But Dalglish always knew his £35million striker was likely to play a major part in what remains of this season and is looking forward to the player reaching full fitness.
"He is a massive player and I suppose the fact we put him on the [UEFA 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 Dalglish.
"He is a great attribute for us but he is only a great attribute when he is fit and well and it is up to us to keep him fit. The game is part and parcel of his recuperation. Everyone knows he would love to play, but then so would I."
Braga manager Domingos Paciencia believes his side are capable of pulling off a shock result over the two legs. "We have two choices, either stop here or make history," said Paciencia. "With concentration, humility and attitude we believe it is possible. We are a surprise team in this competition."
Paciencia also insisted that the Europa League is still a priority despite his side lying just sixth in the league. "The fans, the club, the region are all seeking to be recognised internationally," he said. "We are aware that we can do better in the league but also go one step further in Europe and reach the quarter-finals."
The former Portugal striker praised Liverpool's style but believes their big win against title hopefuls Benfica at the weekend proves his team can mix it with the very best. "They are quick up front, Liverpool are a very difficult team [to beat]," Paciencia said. "To beat Manchester United at any time tells you everything you need to know.
"What we did against Benfica demonstrates that we can win against any team. We want to leave everything open for the second leg."