Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers revealed the reason Andy Carroll was missing from last night's 1-0 win over Heart of Midlothian in the Europa League was the result of a hamstring problem, while confirming he is edging closer to signing Nuri Sahin.
The Real Madrid midfielder has also been linked with a move to Premier League rivals Arsenal but looks set for a switch to Anfield, with Rodgers hopeful a deal is imminent. "Hopefully in the next 24 hours we will get some confirmation on that," he said. "It's quite far along. He's a very good footballer."
Carroll failed to make the squad for the play-off first leg in Edinburgh – despite his presence at the stadium – with the £35million striker linked with a return to Newcastle. However, Rodgers said the forward was set to start against Hearts and the manager remains hopeful his striker will be fit for Sunday's visit of champions Manchester City.
Rodgers said: "Andy was due to start. He had a slight twinge on his hamstring. We had a scan on it and it didn't show a tear, just a slight disruption. We tried to give him 48 hours, let him travel and he trained yesterday to see how it was. It was still a bit tight and the medics' advice was it was too much of a risk for him to play. It was unfortunate because he has worked well and I know he was desperate to play."
Tenacity had to be Liverpool's most effective quality. They would not have imagined that this trip across the border would cause such anxiety. A Europa League play-off tie against Hearts was supposed to be a restorative occasion for Rodgers' side, but instead it was hard-fought and occasionally trying. The expectation is that they will now progress to the group stages following the second leg at Anfield, yet this was never a straightforward assignment.
Much of it was endured by Liverpool. They persevered, and that allowed them to take advantage of their opponents' tiring legs and minds. It was no coincidence Hearts conceded once the game entered the closing 12 minutes, because they had spent so much of the evening being energetic.
Martin Kelly made an incursion down the right flank and although his cross evaded Fabio Borini, Andy Webster could not prevent the ball spinning off his leg and into the net for an own goal. There was an element of cruelty to the breakthrough, but Liverpool had enabled it by being patient.
The home side were relying on exposing them to a culture shock. The mood at Tynecastle was brash and daunting. A team containing seven internationals would not expect to be inhibited by the atmosphere, but the intention was to scramble the visitors' composure on a tight pitch. "It was hard coming to a place like this, where the crowd was right up for it," admitted Rodgers. "We had a problem with our positioning in the first-half and it was a very difficult match for us."
Rodgers rested most of his leading players, but figures like Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger should not have been fazed by the eagerness of the home side. Hearts' intrepid approach was unnerving, though, and some virtuoso flicks by Mehdi Taouil created a shooting chance for Arvydas Novikovas, which Reina had to scramble past the upright.
Hearts were entitled to feel secure. A one-sided encounter had been anticipated, but nobody expected that the home team would be the dominant competitors. They must have felt elated, but that in itself was a danger. On the cusp of half-time, the energetic Raheem Sterling intercepted a crossfield pass, broke forward, and laid the ball into Borini's path. With only the goalkeeper to beat, his first-time effort smacked off the post.
There was a more conventional feel to the second-half, since Hearts were less forthright and the visitors were better able to control the tempo and flow of the game. Improvement was widespread in the Liverpool ranks. Occasionally, a blunt approach could be effective, and Charlie Adam's right-foot shot from 22 yards was only slightly off target. The contest was more even, and Rodgers attempted to take the initiative by replacing the teenage left-back, Jack Robinson, with Stewart Downing.
The bold attitude eventually paid off. Yet Andrew Driver, with a turn and shot, and Callum Paterson with an effort that flew across goal, reminded Liverpool of the peril they had encountered.
Referee F Meyer (Ger).
- More about:
- Heart Of Midlothian
- Jamie Carragher
- Liverpool FC
- Premier League
- Scottish Premier League
- Swansea City