Thursday, February 17, 2011

Europa League Preview: Sparta Prague vs Liverpool

Sparta Prague will know that Liverpool sailed through their group to make their way to the Generali Arena, and that was accomplished despite a fair amount of rotation from former boss Roy Hodgson.

But the Czechs are no pushovers, as evidence of the same is present in their past games in the group stage of the Europa League.

The hosts had to endure a difficult 3-0 loss to CSKA Moscow in the Russian capital, but went on to recover and go unbeaten in their next four games in the tournament. That they edged out Serie A side Palermo to occupy second spot in Group F and ensure progression is proof enough that their opponents would be best advised not to take things easy.

Still, on paper, they go into the first leg of the double header as underdogs, and a victory at home would likely give them enough inspiration to push forward with what would be a famous result.

This game will be new boss Kenny Dalglish’s baptism in the Europa League, as all previous games in this competition saw former manager Roy Hodgson at the helm.

Domestic troubles saw the Merseyside club divorcing the current West Brom boss, as they brought in club legend Dalglish to take charge until the end of the season.

The Merseyside outfit has since had a new lease of life under the care of the new boss, and is currently unbeaten in six games in all competitions.

But they may have been dealt a blow as previous reports point towards skipper Steven Gerrard being unable to make the starting line-up due to fitness concerns, though it could be argued that the boss could continue Hodgson’s rotation policy and give the captain a rest.

Dalglish could also bench Raul Meireles for this game, as the former Porto midfielder was suffering from a slight virus during the recent 1-1 draw with Wigan Athletic. Dirk Kuyt could also be benched to give some much needed experience to the team’s younger forwards.

But all said and done, Liverpool are the stronger side and a loss will likely result in a big dent in confidence.


Sparta Prague

The Czech side is likely to put forth a strong line-up, as that is arguably the only way through which they can hold their own against Liverpool.

Sionko looks set to start on the right side of midfield for Sparta, while Keric is expected to partner Kadlec in attack.

Possible starting XI: Zitka; Brabec, Bondoa, Hejda, Pamic; Sionko, Vacek, Husek, Podany; Keric, Kadlec.


There are reports concerning skipper Steven Gerrard’s fitness, with suggestions that the talismanic midfielder may not be able to play any part in this game. But manager Kenny Dalglish could employ some rotation and yet manage to pull off a positive result.

Luis Suarez is ineligible and will play no part in this game, while Jonjo Shelvey is sidelined. Jay Spearing is still recovering from an injury.

Possible starting XI: Reina; Kelly, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Johnson; Maxi, Lucas, Poulsen, Jovanovic; Cole; Ngog.

Kenny Dalglish 'Honoured' To Finally Lead Liverpool In Europa League

Kenny Dalglish may have conquered Europe as a Liverpool player, but admits he is honoured to now be able to lead them in continental competition as manager.

The 59-year-old won the European Cup three times in seven years during his playing days.

But the ban imposed on English clubs in 1985 – after the role played by Reds fans in the Heysel Stadium disaster – robbed him of the chance to extend that tally as a manager, having taken over from Joe Fagan after that fateful night.

He has since managed Blackburn and Newcastle in Europe but on Thursday - 9,393 days after his first spell in the Anfield dugout began - Dalglish will take charge of Liverpool on the continent for the first time when they face Sparta Prague in the last 32 of the Europa League.

‘It is a great honour for me to be involved with Liverpool, irrespective of the competition, but to be involved in Europe gives that extra little plus,’ said the Scot.

Dalglish’s men head into the first leg with an unbeaten record in Europe behind them this season under former boss Roy Hodgson.

‘It is up to us to carry on the good work which was done by Roy and the players to get us this far,’ added Dalglish.

‘The competition we’re involved in only seems to be unimportant to people who are not involved.

‘How do you define important? It is important because it is the next game. We will be doing our best to get the result everyone wants.’

Sparta hasn’t played competitively since the Czech League closed down for winter in November and Dalglish added: ‘They haven’t played many games.

'Sparta is a good side but we aren’t here to be pessimistic.’

Pablo Hernandez Linked With Summer Anfield Switch

Liverpool is reportedly plotting a summer swoop for Valencia winger Pablo Hernandez.

The Mirror initially reported that the Reds had been alerted to the potential availability of the Spaniard and now suggests interest from Merseyside is 'expected' in the 25-year-old.

Liverpool director of football strategy Damien Comolli is thought to be keen on Hernandez after admitting that the Anfield club currently lacks penetrating wide options.

Hernandez would certainly provide Liverpool with more natural width and - valued at €17 million - would be an interesting addition to Kenny Dalglish's squad.

More likely, however, is a Liverpool move for Aston Villa attacker Ashley Young - with both Dalglish and Comolli known to be admirers of the 25-year-old.

However, according to the Mirror, Liverpool will have to battle with Manchester United in order to sign Young in what is likely to be a busy summer transfer window for the former.

Liverpool owners New England Sports Ventures (NESV) are expected to make their mark on the transfer market again when the window reopens in June as they look to further enhance their playing squad.

NESV spent £58 million to bring Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez to Anfield in January and are likely to invest heavily again before the start of the new season.

Niko Kranjcar Linked With Move To Anfield

Fresh reports have emerged linking Tottenham playmaker Niko Kranjcar with a move to Liverpool.

The 26-year-old as enjoyed a recent resurgence in the Spurs team - scoring the winning goal in each of their last two Barclays Premier League outings - but remains on the fringes on the first XI.

Liverpool has previously been linked with a move for the Croatian midfielder by Metro, and now reports that the Reds will reignite their interest in the summer.

Reportedly valued at around £10 million, Kranjcar will allegedly be targeted by Liverpool when the transfer window reopens in June as they look to bring players with a creative spark to Anfield.

According to, Liverpool have 'earmarked' the former Portsmouth man as a player to enhance their squad and are prepared to meet Tottenham's valuation in their pursuit of attacking reinforcements.

Harry Redknapp is unlikely to stand in Kranjcar's way should Liverpool make an acceptable bid in the closed season, but the Spurs boss maintains that he wants the Croatia international to stay at White Hart Lane.

"I could always stick Niko somewhere else if Gareth was fit because Niko deserves his place in the team," he said.

"He’s a top player. He practises, he spends time after training every day. Every day, he is on the training ground after he finishes doing a half-hour’s [shooting] practice.

"His dad was a top player – his dad is now the manager of Montenegro. He has been brought up with the game. He practises, so it’s not a coincidence he can strike a ball. His technique is great."

Johnson Happy To Play Anywhere

Liverpool defender Glen Johnson has put a positive spin on losing his spot at right-back to Martin Kelly, insisting the competition for places is a positive sign for the club.

The 20-year-old Kelly has started every match on the right side of defence since Kenny Dalglish took charge just over a month ago, which has meant Johnson has had to fit in on the left.

However, also included in the squad which travelled to face Sparta Prague in Thursday night's Europa League last-32 tie were youth team full-backs John Flanagan (18) and Jack Robinson (17). Johnson does not feel threatened by the pretenders to his crown, insisting it shows the club has a healthy system growing beneath the first team and that he is happy to help out the team where necessary.

"It shows everyone where the club is going and it is always nice to have young lads competing for places, being involved and being around the team,'' said Johnson. "It is good for them and their careers and competition for places is healthy for any team. I'm playing out of position but I'm happy to do a job for the team.

"Sometimes through your career you have to do things which suit the team but not yourself but I'm more than happy to do it for the team. We haven't done too much work on it (playing on the left), when we've done the team shape I line up there and that is pretty much it. Obviously the more games you play the more comfortable you get and I don't feel too out of position to be honest.''

Dalglish praised Johnson for fitting in with the team ethic.

"The team is more important than any one individual,'' he said. "And without trying to undermine the importance of the individual it is great credit he is prepared to play there because he is England's right-back but he has done an excellent job for us on the left. The team's needs come first and you can tell by his comments he fully appreciates that. We appreciate it is maybe not his first choice but it is better than being substitute.''

Johnson is likely to again line up on the left on Thursday night against Sparta Prague as Dalglish features in his first European match as Liverpool boss.

Liverpool Face Five-Way Fight For St Etienne Star

Liverpool are in a five-way chase for St Etienne's midfield enforcer Blaise Matuidi.

The 23-year-old has been one of the Reds' key transfer targets ever since the arrival of Damien Comolli as the director of sporting strategy.

Comolli moved to Anfield from St Etienne, but Liverpool will face stiff competition from Serie A sides Roma, Juventus and Fiorentina, plus Bundesliga club Schalke.

St Etienne's asking price is thought to be around £8million, but the club insists they have received no concrete offers for the midfielder yet.

Reds Launch Mobile Store

Liverpool FC are proud to announce the launch of a brand new 'mobile store'.

The platform is the first of its kind in world football and will allow supporters the chance to browse the latest LFC merchandise on the move.

It will replicate the current online store in almost every way but will offer the majority of smart phone users a fully transactional mobile platform.

Developed by Snow Valley, the platform has been optimized for the iPhone and iPod but will display and operate well on the majority of smart phones and offer a limited service on some older devices.

So if you're planning to buy Luis Suarez's No.7 shirt but can't get to a computer, then this is for you!

The mobile store can be accessed by visiting the online store from your mobile device or by using the url

Reds Put Ticket Issues To UEFA

Liverpool FC last night directly raised concerns with UEFA over the pricing of tickets for their Europa League clash with Sparta Prague.

In a meeting at the Generali Stadium, LFC officials expressed their unhappiness at the marked increase in prices compared to previous games played in the competition. They also sought assurances from the home club that ticket prices were comparable for both home and away supporters.

A Club spokesman said: "We'd previously written to UEFA and took the opportunity to raise our concerns with them face to face. It was made clear to us that Sparta were able to set the prices at whatever level they thought appropriate despite them being marked up at a significant premium.

"However, Sparta confirmed to us that general sale tickets were priced the same for both home fans and Liverpool supporters although Sparta season ticket holders were offered match tickets at a discount which is normal practice in Prague.

"There has been considerable comment on the highest priced tickets, but these were Sparta's Category A offering which we only made available to Liverpool supporters because we had sold out of regular priced seats. Again, we have been assured that the prices charged were the same for both home and away fans."