Monday, April 22, 2024

Prediction: Sparta Prague vs Liverpool

Verdict: Draw

Best odds: 14/5

Bookmaker: 888sport

Returning to Europa League action, Liverpool face the challenging task of traveling to Sparta Prague’s epet Arena for the first leg of their last-16 tie on Thursday evening.

While Liverpool secured direct qualification to the knockout rounds by finishing atop Group E, Brian Priske’s Sparta Prague had to stage an impressive comeback against Champions League drop-outs Galatasaray to advance.

Sparta Prague

Sparta’s success in two-legged ties in the 2023/24 season was not unfamiliar territory for them. After being eliminated by Copenhagen in the preliminary Champions League rounds, they had to overcome Dinamo Zagreb in the final Europa League qualifying phase to secure a spot in the group stage.

In Group C, where only two points separated Rangers, Sparta, and Real Betis, the Czech Fortuna Liga champions finished as runners-up, setting up a challenging encounter with Galatasaray. Despite a 3-2 loss in the first leg, Sparta managed a remarkable 4-1 victory in the second leg, sealing a thrilling 6-4 aggregate success.

Now aiming to reach the Europa League quarterfinals for just the second time under their current name, Sparta face Liverpool after meeting their city rivals Slavia Prague twice, winning in extra time in the Czech Cup and settling for a 0-0 draw in league action.

Despite the draw, Sparta are still at the top of the Fortuna Liga standings, holding a four-point lead over Slavia. They have been formidable at the epet Arena, remaining unbeaten in 15 home games since their Champions League qualifying exit to Copenhagen in August.

Team News

Three key players for Sparta Prague, captain Ladislav Krejci, top assister Veljko Birmancevic, and left-back Matej Rynes, are all eligible for Europa League action again after serving their suspension and missing the second-leg match against Galatasaray.

However, right-back Andreas Vindheim is absent from the hosts’ Europa League knockout squad due to a season-ending injury. Additionally, there is uncertainty surrounding the status of centre-back Filip Panak, who was substituted at halftime during the weekend’s draw with Slavia Prague.

In Panak’s absence, Asger Sorensen and Patrik Vydra are ready to step in and deputize in defense. Meanwhile, leading the attacking line is Jan Kuchta, who has scored in his last three Europa League appearances and has notched up 10 goals so far.

Liverpool

In Sparta Prague’s last 16 European encounters against English teams, they have only emerged victorious once. Liverpool arrives in the Czech Republic after recently overcoming a road curse, albeit in circumstances that caused a bit of controversy forced by the British media at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground.

Referee Paul Tierney made an incorrect drop-ball decision in Liverpool’s favour late in stoppage time. However, between then and the winning goal scored by Darwin Nunez, two whole minutes passed during which Nottingham Forest players had the ball at their feet on three separate occasions, and still failed to secure their goal. As much as anyone related to Forest, Manchester City or Arsenal would want to, no-one can truthfully say that Tierney’s mistake led to Liverpool scoring, quite apart from the fact that the referee missed a potential red-card offence by Forest midfielder Ryan Yates that led to the play being stopped in the first place.

Be that as it may, Jurgen Klopp’s side booked three important points in the Premier League title race maintaining a one-point lead ahead of Manchester City.

Liverpool, already crowned Carabao Cup Cup winners and with an upcoming FA Cup quarterfinal against Manchester United, resume their Europa League journey after topping Group E as expected, although they faced setbacks with away losses to Toulouse and Union SG. Remarkably, they have failed to win any of their last 11 Europa League knockout games away from home, with their last away victory in this stage dating back to 2009/10 against now-defunct Romanian club Unirea Urziceni. On the other hand, they did play in three Champions League finals since, winning the biggest trophy in club football in 2019.

Liverpool are currently enjoying a six-game winning streak in all competitions. Their injury list poses concerns, though several players are already back and more are expected to return soon.

During their sole previous visit to Sparta territory in the 2010/11 last 32, the Reds were held to a goalless stalemate.

Team News

Liverpool received a significant fitness boost ahead of the crucial win at Nottingham Forest, with match-winner Nunez, Wataru Endo, Dominik Szoboszlai, and Andrew Robertson all available for selection.

However, the medical team is still quite busy, as Joel Matip (knee), Ben Doak (knee), Diogo Jota (knee), Trent Alexander-Arnold (knee), Thiago Alcantara (muscle), Curtis Jones (shin), Alisson Becker (hamstring), Stefan Bajcetic (calf), and Ryan Gravenberch (ankle) have no chance of being fit for the first leg.

Mohamed Salah, who is dealing with a thigh injury, is expected to return to training this week, but given the upcoming fixture against Manchester City on Sunday, Klopp may opt to proceed with caution and prioritize his recovery.

Conclusion

With the second leg at Anfield still to come, not to mention the Manchester City game at the end of the week, Liverpool surely won’t be going into this match full throttle. A draw to take away from the Czech capital would certainly be a good result all things considered, the Merseysiders’ injury crisis not least.

Verdict: Draw

Best odds: 14/5

Bookmaker: 888sport

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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