Dalglish: Reina is world's number one
Kenny Dalglish is banking on Jose Reina living up to his appraisal as "one of, if not the best" goalkeepers in the world to help Liverpool get past Braga in the Europa League on Thursday night.
Spain international Reina is set to make his 300th appearance for Liverpool in their last-16 second leg tie at Anfield, where the Reds will need to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the away leg.
Keeping a clean sheet - and thus avoiding the need to score three times to overcome an away goal - will be vital to the Reds' chances of progressing to the quarter-finals and Dalglish has lavished praise on Reina ahead of the clash.
"In my opinion Pepe Reina is one of, if not the, best keeper in the world,'' Dalglish said. "I know he doesn't get in his national side, but if it's my opinion you're asking for that would be my shout. He has been fantastic for this football club and is a great asset to us. That is reflected in that if Stevie (Gerrard) or Carra (Jamie Carragher) are not playing, he is our captain.''
Liverpool have not lost in 10 European matches at Anfield, drawing just one, since November 2009 and their record in Europa League and UEFA Cup games is even better - their last defeat on home turf came 15 fixtures ago against Celtic in March 2003. That history should stand them in good stead as they seek to bounce back from their first European defeat in 14 games last week in Portugal, where they lost 1-0.
Their opponents did little to suggest they would be a major threat at Anfield and, although they have won Champions League away matches against Sevilla and Partizan Belgrade in the current campaign, they were thrashed 6-0 by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in September. Dalglish knows how important playing at home in the second leg can be.
"Anfield is always an advantage for us,'' he said. "Even though we're one down, the fans can help us turn things around, but it's mainly up to us to help ourselves. We need to start much better than in the first leg.''
The Europa League may represent Liverpool's best chance of playing in the competition next season. They currently sit six points behind Tottenham, who occupy the last qualifying league place of fifth, having played one match more. However, were they to get all the way to the final in Dublin and win they would be guaranteed a 12th successive season competing on the continent.
"This is a massive competition for us, especially with us being out the League Cup and the FA Cup,'' said midfielder Jay Spearing. "Braga showed they're a very attacking team, but in the second half (of the first leg) we showed we can cause them problems, particularly when Andy Carroll came on and starting winning a lot of balls.''
Carroll is likely to start on the bench again for the third successive match having successfully returned to fitness after a thigh injury had kept him out since December 28. However, the hosts will be without the injured trio of Steven Gerrard, Martin Kelly and Fabio Aurelio and the ineligible Luis Suarez. Braga coach Domingos Paciencia is optimistic over his side's chances of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time.
"We know Liverpool are a good team but for them to go through they have to score two goals,'' he said. "If we get through it will be history for Braga.''