Club Focus – Liverpool – Reds take on Prague in Dalglish’s European return

Kenny Dalglish will take charge of his first European game since returning as Liverpool manager when the Reds take on Sparta Prague on Thursday night. The Merseysiders cruised through the Europa League group stages under former boss Roy Hodgson, who often opted to rotate his squad, particularly in away games. It is unclear whether Dalglish will take a similar approach; however, with his side no longer challenging for any other trophies, the Reds legend who won three European Cups as a player with Liverpool may decide to select a full-strength starting eleven for the remainder of the competition.

The Reds will be looking to score at least one crucial away goal in this tie, but they will be without the cup-tied Luis Suarez and injured Andy Carroll. With Fernando Torres having been sold last month, that will leave the likes of Dirk Kuyt, David Ngog and Daniel Pacheco to fill the gap up front. Kuyt performed admirably in this role against Chelsea and is the most likely to start as the main striker, but based on his recent displays, it appears that the Dutchman may be one who needs a breather. Frenchman David Ngog has played a much lesser role for Liverpool under Dalglish, so he may be presented with the opportunity to impress the boss. And with no Premier League action this weekend, the Anfield outfit will have a full week to prepare for the crucial return leg on Merseyside next week. This may affect how Dalglish decides to use his squad for this tie in the last 32 of the competition.

Liverpool go into the game unbeaten in six matches and will be looking to keep this good run going for some time longer in order to further improve confidence within the squad. Although it is looking more likely that Dalglish will lead his side to a top six finish in the Premier League this season, this is by no means guaranteed. Therefore, in the worst case scenario, Liverpool may not even be participating in any European competition during the next campaign. In that case, last season’s Europa League semi-finalists should be looking to progress to the last four once again, something that they should be capable of achieving.

Meanwhile, the talk surrounding the club in recent days has been about one of Liverpool’s younger stars – Raheem Sterling. The former Queens Park Rangers player was snapped up by former boss Rafael Benitez last year, who beat off stiff competition from a whole host of clubs to seal Sterling’s signature. The 16-year-old put in a quality display during Liverpool’s 9-0 thrashing of Southend in the FA Youth Cup on Monday night, scoring an incredible five goals. Sterling is already being compared to heroes of the past such as John Barnes, although the winger is still at a tender age and very much part of a developing process. Reds fans may have to be patient for some time before they see Sterling hitting such a high level of performance in the first-team; nonetheless supporters should be excited by the fact that they could have a real star on their hands.

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