x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Andy Carroll likely to start for Liverpool in Europe

Coping without Steven Gerrard has been the norm for Liverpool in the Europa League this season, and the captain's absence against Braga in Portugal could give Andy Carroll the chance to start.

Coping without Steven Gerrard has been the norm for Liverpool in the Europa League this season, and the captain's absence against Braga in Portugal tonight could give Andy Carroll the chance to start.

Gerrard has played only twice in Europe this season and the midfielder has not travelled to Portugal for the first leg of the last-16 match, despite playing in Sunday's 3-1 victory over Manchester United.

Not only did that victory lift Liverpool to sixth place in the Premier League, but Carroll was able to make his first appearance since joining for £35 million (Dh208m) in January.

The former Newcastle United striker has been gradually introduced to the Liverpool team after arriving with a thigh injury.

"We've seen steady improvement over that time; he's much stronger in that tendon and in general as well," Liverpool medical chief Dr Peter Brukner said.

"We still need to keep working with him and we want to build his training and playing load up to the level required. He'll play some more minutes against Braga and hopefully he'll be involved more and more with each game."

It will not be an easy introduction to European football for the 22-year-old Carroll, playing a side also sixth in their domestic league. Braga have won five of six European home matches this season, including a victory over Arsenal during the Champions League group stage, although the Portuguese team failed to advance in the more prestigious competition.

It is the Champions League where Liverpool are more accustomed to playing, but the five-time European champions look like missing out on the tournament again next season.

For Manchester City, however, the Europa League is a stepping stone for a possible tilt at the Champions League next season. Roberto Mancini's side are third in the Premier League.

"There are a lot of well-known sides in the competition," Mancini said of the Europa League. "All the teams we can play usually play in the Champions League. It is a little Champions League. All the teams are big ones."

The last-16 phase begins for City in Ukraine at Dynamo Kiev.

"It's a difficult place to go to," said David Silva, the City forward who played there two seasons ago for Valencia. "We got a 1-1 draw, so we didn't do too badly. At their stadium it's very tough, but we're excited about our chances."

Russia and the Netherlands each have three teams in the last 16, with two head-to-head clashes pitting Twente as host against Zenit St Petersburg and Spartak Moscow heading to Amsterdam to face Ajax.