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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Sparta Prague, 02.24.11

Liverpool host Sparta in the second leg of their Europa League tie.

Thankfully we see Liverpool get back on the pitch tomorrow, and hopefully it's a little different story than the first leg.

Yes, Liverpool's performance was tempered by the nature of the fixture, it being European competition and etc. That doesn't do much to erase the collective apathy that dominated the first leg of the tie, which, when combined with the performances earlier in the season, was cause for concern. No need to do any fear-mongering ahead of the match, but it's fairly obvious to say that we're hoping the performance last Thursday was the exception rather than the rule.

The result, though, seemed like a mixture of disappointment and contentment on both sides. We know the Liverpool tale---not enough pressing, too passive at times, lack of energy that sent us into Hodgson-era tremors. For Sparta, not conceding was certainly a positive, but Marek Matějovský wanted more from both sides:

"I expected little bit more from them. They often held on to the ball in their own half and it looked as if their priority was to keep a clean sheet and rely on their home leg.

"If we had pressed a little bit more, we could have caused them more problems and hurt them more than we really did. On the other hand, we had to be also careful – if we'd offered them any space for counterattacks, they would have punished us."

Tomorrow they'll have to find a goal while still basically playing out the same approach---we know Liverpool can do exactly what Matějovský mentions, but if there's no urgency from Liverpool, Sparta will have to feel as though they can get something out of the tie and advance. Plus they have Tomáš Řepka, who may or may not have sequestered himself in the Czechoslovakian wilderness for the past week with only his tattoos and rage to sustain him.

For more on Sparta, visit last week's preview or the Play Waved On blog (via Oh You Beauty) mentioned in that preview.

For Liverpool:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Carragher Skrtel Agger
Kelly Lucas Poulsen Johnson
Meireles Cole

---There continues to be injury concerns for the first-team, with Steven Gerrard still a doubt and Andy Carroll, Fabio Aurelio, and Jonjo Shelvey all out for sure. There is a chance that Gerrard could feature, but all indications seem to be that no chances will be taken. Luis Suarez is the only other confirmed absence.

---I've gone and done it, selecting Christian Poulsen in the starting eleven for the first time this season. And I'm disgusted with myself. Actually, I feel surprisingly good, but that might be the midday beer that I treated myself to. Never too early. Anyhow, Poulsen's back from the birth of his already alice-banded child, and with Gerrard and Shelvey missing and options slim in the midfield, I think there's a chance he could feature ahead of Jay Spearing. Another stretch is Joe Cole, who played an hour (A FULL HOUR) in the first leg in his return to first team action. Right now I'd say that Poulsen is probably more likely to start than Cole, but it probably wouldn't do any harm to include Cole in the forward areas. I expect the rest of the midfield to be rounded out by Raul Meireles and Lucas, and if we get the formation above, it'd be Poulsen in the more withdrawn position in a midfield diamond.

---If it's three at the back they pretty much pick themselves, as Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger, and Jamie Carragher are all fully fit. Skrtel's been the weak link of late, but he's turned in more assured performances as part of a three-man back line and actually done a half-decent job of getting forward at times. I'd guess most of us are in agreement that Agger's presence is paramount---Liverpool have really missed him over the last couple matches, so hopefully he's back and ready to go tomorrow.

---Dirk Kuyt as the lone man up top

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

The second leg has gone from being an opportunity for the youngsters to get some experience to a match that pretty much requires Liverpool to roll out something close to a first team if they want to progress. So it's a balance of doing what they need to in order to move on and not risking anything for the long-term---there's probably no better litmus test for your feelings on Noel's poll from yesterday than tomorrow's match. Dalglish and company will obviously need to signal the intent they were lacking in the first leg, but not at the expense of anyone's fitness.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

For real this time, Liverpool come away with a 2-0 win. For those of you doubting me, I say, you're probably right, but that doesn't mean you're not an asshole.

Reminder that tomorrow's kickoff is a bit earlier than usual---start time in the UK is 7:00 (18:00 GMT), which means stateside you'll need to tune in at 1:00 EST. Options on TV seem to be the same, with Five carrying the match live in the UK and GolTV carrying proceedings in the US. Tomorrow's news and links for streams will be posted in the matchday thread early in the day, and please let us know in the comments if there's any other viewing options worth posting.

Hope you all enjoy the rest of your Wednesday, whether or not you've placed a voodoo curse on Manchester United for the afternoon.

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