Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool side travelled to the Czech Republic to take on Sparta Prague, for their first time in their history. Infact, Liverpool have only met Czech opposition once before, beating Slovan Liberec 4-2 on aggregate, this was on route to winning the UEFA Cup in 2001 – a lucky omen for Liverpool perhaps?
Not quite so lucky for Sparta is their recent record against English teams, especially at home. Sparta haven’t managed to score a single goal in their last five attempts at home to English sides, you have to go back to 1983 when Culture Club topped the charts and Sparta Prague beat Watford 4-0, ironically it was current Sparta coach Josef Chovanec who scored the first goal that night.
The Liverpool squad which made the trip to Prague was somewhat depleted, players missing through injury and the cup-tied Luis Suarez. Its frustrating for Liverpool fans to see their new look strike force sidelined. Club record signing Andy Carroll has yet to kick a ball for Liverpool, as he is getting back from injury.
The fans have already taken Carroll and Suarez to their hearts, perhaps trying to fill the immediate void left by Fernando Torres. The new strike force already has more songs than appearances made in the red shirt!
When the draw was made for this tie back in December, both sides had a very different look about them. Sparta had been the biggest victims of the January transfer window. Losing arguably their two most influential players, Juraj Kucka to Genoa and Bony Wilifred to Vitesse Arnheim.
Sparta were represented by Tomas Repka and Josef Chovanec in the pre match press conference. Repka arrived sporting his permanent stubble, trying his best to look intimidating, which he did with ease. Chovanec was taking the pressure off of his side by stating “Liverpool are big favourites for the tie, but we have a strong motivation and we have worked hard to get here”
Repka is known for his tough tackling and strong approach, and it sounded like he was looking forward to facing Fernando Torres “I was looking forward to the confrontation with Torres, but I believe Liverpool will be strong despite the loss of Torres”
The press conference from Sparta was very professional and clinical – they didn’t give much away, it sounded like they focused on the job ahead. Next up, was Kenny Dalglish and Glen Johnson to face the press.
The game with Sparta Prague would be an historic moment for Dalglish, as this would be the first match he would lead Liverpool out in European competition. “Its an honour to represent Liverpool Football Club in Europe, we need to carry on the good work from Roy and the players” said Dalglish.
Liverpools depleted squad had meant there were a handful of youth players called up, most notably Raheem Sterling was in the 23 man squad. The 16 year-old was fresh off a 5 goal haul against Southend in the Youth Cup for Liverpool, and would be the youngest player ever to play for Liverpool if he made an appearance in the Czech Capital.
Kenny was at his best when questioned about how Raheem will handle the occasion of being part of the squad at such a young age. “Don’t worry, we have a babysitter at the hotel for him and we will make sure his does his homework before he goes to bed!” said Dalglish with his tongue firmly in his cheek.
The atmosphere in the press centre was very relaxed as Kenny continued to show his charismatic side. The Czech press asked Kenny about former red and Czech international Patrik Berger. “Patrik did live next door to me.” Said Dalglish “Its always great to see former players and he made a great contribution to Liverpool, but it’s good to see him as a footballer and not a neighbour!”
This Europa League game would be Sparta Prague’s first competitive game in over two months, and it showed in the opening exchanges. Liverpool gave Sparta a lesson in how to keep possession. But Sparta had the lion share of the chances, as Kyrgiakos made a vital block from Matejovsky.
Liverpool carved out few chances but Glen Johnson went close, when he danced his way into the Sparta box and bent his shot round the Sparta post. Sparta pushed on looking for the first goal of the game, Kweuke made Reina make a smart save with 15 minutes to go. Perhaps the closest chance of the game fell to Kamil Vacek with minutes remaining, Vacek hit a vicious shot from 25 yards out which had Reina scrambling across his goal.
The final whistle went as both sets of fans were relatively happy with the result, despite the lack of entertainment. Liverpool boss Dalglish was satisfied with the result “It was a difficult game for us, we would have rather been more offensive, but circumstances had dictated the way we setup. It wasn’t the worst result, but it could have been better.”
The performance was definitely not a vintage one from Liverpool, but Dalglish was looking at the positives in regards to the players used “There was a lot of value in the game. Kyrgiakos got a game, Danny Wilson got a game, David Ngog got a start up front and Joe Cole came back into the fray. The game in some ways served its purpose because those four lads will get great benefit from it.”
Liverpool will be looking to press home their advantage next week, by playing in front of a full house at Anfield. An atmosphere which will be an unknown for most Sparta Prague players, Sparta boss Chovanec was looking forward to next weeks game in Liverpool “I’m sure our players will appreciate their chance of playing at Anfield.” Chovanec added “Both sides are still very much in the tie. Maybe we can surprise them.”