With European football being far from assured through the clubs League position, Liverpool have headed to Prague for the commencement of the knockout stages of the Europa League and a clash with the Czech champions Sparta.
It will be the first time the two sides have met each other in their illustrious European histories, a statistic almost as strange as the fact that the game is the first Reds European tie overseen by Kenny Dalglish.
King Kenny took charge of Liverpool in the aftermath of the Heysel Stadium disaster, and guided Liverpool to success in the era in which English clubs were banned. English teams were allowed back into Europe in the 1990-91 season, but with Liverpool banned for an additional season, Dalglish quit before the club were allowed to compete.
During his time at Blackburn Rovers, he oversaw an embarrassing defeat to Swedish side Trelleborgs, and had moved upstairs before Rovers Champions League campaign faltered so badly. He did enjoy some brief European success at Newcastle United, famously a 3-2 Champions League win over Barcelona at St James Park.
Dalglish is looking forward to the challenge of European football, and has some regrets at not being able to have the chance to see his great Liverpool side of the late 80’s test themselves at the highest level: “Whether
Whilst this side have a long way to go to match the club’s previous European exploits, there is a chance that this tie could see Liverpool history made, with the possible appearance of the clubs youngest ever player. Raheem Sterling, a 16 year old striker signed from QPR last February, has been included in the squad for the tie in Prague after an impressive five goal haul against Southend United in the FA Youth Cup on Monday night. He joins other Academy products John Flanagan, Conor Coady, Jack Robinson and Tom Ince in a youthful looking party.
Whilst Sterling may see some action, one member of the travelling group will definitely not play. Andy Carroll is expected to make his debut against Manchester United on March 6th but the Liverpool manager felt that the trip would be a good exercise for the £35M front man. “He won’t be considered for the game but will travel just to get in and amongst the lads. It’ll help him to feel a part of it,” reported This is Anfield.
Steven Gerrard is rested, Daniel Agger misses out with a groin injury, whilst Christian Poulsen is missing to attend the birth of his child but Joe Cole and Raul Meireles are both included. The mix of youth and experience is an interesting one and the tie should be fascinating viewing on five tonight with an 8.05 kick-off.
Possible Team: Reina; Kelly, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Johnson; Cole, Miereles, Lucas, Maxi; Kuyt, Ngog.