Europa League preview: Braga v Liverpool

Liverpool travel to Braga for Thursday’s Europa League clash on a high following their 3-1 Premier League win over arch-rivals Manchester United.

A hat-trick from Dutch forward Dirk Kuyt on Sunday sealed Liverpool’s third consecutive home victory over their fiercest opponents.

Putting a dent in United’s English Premier League title challenge was a major coup for interim manager Kenny Dalglish.

The Scotsman has overseen a significant improvement in the team’s fortunes since taking over from Roy Hodgson in January, guiding them to sixth in table.

They are still unlikely to finish in the Champions League qualification places, but retain a realistic chance of collecting silverware in the Europa League.

A somewhat fortunate 1-0 aggregate win over Sparta Prague saw Liverpool reach the third round, where Portuguese side Braga are blocking the route to the quarter-finals.

Braga exceeded expectations to finish second in the Liga Sagres last season, just five points behind champions Benfica.

Their strong domestic showing earned them a place in the Champions League qualifications rounds, where impressive victories over Celtic and Sevilla resulted in a debut group stage appearance.

Braga were initially outclassed by Arsenal and Shakhtar Donetsk, losing 6-0 at the Emirates Stadium and 3-0 at home to the Ukrainian club.

But they regrouped to beat Partizan Belgrade home and away, before gaining revenge against Arsenal with a 2-0 home win.

Another defeat to Shakhtar forced Domingos Paciencia’s team to settle for a spot in the Europa League second round, where they beat Lech Poznan 2-1 on aggregate to progress.

They are a disappointing sixth in the Liga Sagres this season, but did manage to beat Benfica 2-1 on Sunday, inflicting the second-placed club’s first defeat in 19 matches.

Forward Luis Suarez will be unavailable for Liverpool trip’s to the Estadio AXA.

The Uruguay international played in European competition for Ajax earlier in the season and the Eredivisie club’s participation in the Europa League renders him ineligible.

But another striker to arrive in January – England’s Andy Carroll – may feature after making his debut off the bench against Manchester United.

Defenders Martin Kelly, Daniel Agger and Fabio Aurelio are all expected to miss out for Liverpool through injury.