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9 key things to know ahead of Sparta Prague vs. Liverpool – 1,000 up for Klopp?

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Liverpool return to Europa League action for the first time in three months on Thursday, making the trip to Sparta Prague for a last 16 first-leg clash.

Sparta Prague vs. Liverpool

Europa League Last-16 (first leg) | epet ARENA
March 7, 2024 | 5.45pm (GMT)


The Reds continue to grind out results in tough circumstances, with last weekend’s late 1-0 win at Nottingham Forest still fresh in the memory.

Europa League commitments come to the fore on Thursday night, as Liverpool head to Prague for the first leg of their knockout round meeting with Sparta.

Here’s all you need to know ahead of the match.

 

1. Liverpool favourites for Europa League glory

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Thursday, November 30, 2023: Liverpool's captain Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the third goal from a penalty kick during the UEFA Europa League Group E matchday 5 game between Liverpool FC and LASK at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

An unprecedented quadruple still isn’t out of the question for Liverpool, even if injuries are doing their best to halt them in their tracks.

The Premier League title race feels too close to call, but there is no doubt as to who the favourites are to seal Europa League glory in May.

The Reds are the bookies’ pick to go all the way, with Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen’s side the second-favourites currently.

For that reason, relatively comfortable progress is expected against Sparta over two legs, not that the Czech giants should be taken for granted.

Imagine a final against Leverkusen in Dublin!

 

2. Sparta flying high in their own right

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - FEBRUARY 15: Angelo Preciado of Sparta Prague (R) celebrates with teammate Matej Rynes after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League 2023/24 round of 16 first leg match between Galatasaray A.S. and AC Sparta Praha at Ali Sami Yen Arena on February 15, 2024 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Ahmad Mora - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

As mentioned, Liverpool are expected to prevail over the two meetings, but Sparta have shown their pedigree in the Europa League this season.

In their five home games in the competition, they have won four and drawn the other 0-0 against Rangers, scoring 12 times and conceding four.

They are also four points clear at the top of the Czech First League, with rivals Slavia Prague chasing them down in second place.

Only one defeat has come their way in 23 league outings in 2023/24 to date.

 

3. Who’s injured for Liverpool?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 17, 2024: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during the pre-match warm-up before the FA Premier League match between Brentford FC and Liverpool FC at the Brentford Community Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Thankfully, Liverpool picked up no new injury problems at Forest, but that doesn’t mean a host of players aren’t still unavailable.

There is still no immediate return in sight for the likes of Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Diogo Jota, who will all be missing until after the international break.

Mohamed Salah is back in the squad, which feels significant as Liverpool try and get him fully fit for Sunday’s Premier League clash with Man City.

Wataru Endo, Dominik Szoboszlai and Darwin Nunez are all in contention to feature prominently against Sparta, getting invaluable minutes in their legs.

Joel Matip, Curtis Jones, Ryan Gravenberch, Thiago, Stefan Bajcetic and Ben Doak are the other main absentees.

 

4. Potential Liverpool starting XI

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 20, 2023: Liverpool's Jarell Quansah during the Football League Cup Quarter-Final match between Liverpool FC and West Ham United FC at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp has huge decisions to make when it comes to his personnel for Thursday’s game, considering he will have one eye on City this weekend.

It would be a big surprise if Ibrahima Konate or Virgil van Dijk weren’t given a rest, with Jarell Quansah coming in instead.

Kostas Tsimikas will likely replace Andy Robertson at left-back, while youngsters such as Bobby Clark, James McConnell and Lewis Koumas could also play.

Endo, Szoboszlai and Nunez could be handed starts, getting more match fitness in their legs, with the likes of Konate, Robertson, Joe Gomez and Harvey Elliott coming on as pre-planned substitutes.

Predicted Liverpool XI: Kelleher; Bradley, Quansah, Van Dijk, Tsimikas; Endo, Szoboszlai, Clark; Diaz, Nunez, Gakpo.

 

5. Not a night for Danns

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 2, 2024: Liverpool's Jayden Danns during the FA Premier League match between Nottingham Forest FC and Liverpool FC at the City Ground. Liverpool won 1-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Unfortunately for the young striker, he will miss the match due to a concussion, reported the Liverpool Echo. Danns’ 85th-minute aerial collision with Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Matz Sels is to blame.

The incident happened when the ‘keeper came off his line to collect a cross, only for Danns to crash into him as he attempted to reach the ball.

With Salah and Nunez back in contention, Liverpool should have plenty of quality to deal with the loss of the 18-year-old!

 

6. Reds could bring up 1,000 goals

Nunez’s dramatic winner at Forest was one of the moments of the season so far, and it also edged Liverpool towards another milestone.

The Uruguayan’s header was the 998th goal of Klopp’s tenure, meaning Thursday could easily see the magical 1,000 reached.

If not, Sunday’s enormous meeting with Man City would be a pretty strong backup option!

 

7. Did You Know?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 25, 2024: Liverpool's captain Virgil van Dijk celebrates with the trophy and the Alan Hardaker Trophy for Man-of-the-Match after the Football League Cup Final match between Chelsea FC and Liverpool FC at Wembley Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0 after extra-time. (Photo by Peter Powell/Propaganda)

Liverpool have been improved in all areas this season, and while the midfield has rightly been focused on a lot, their defence has also excelled.

If the Reds manage to keep a clean sheet against Sparta on Thursday, it will be their fourth shutout in a row in all competitions.

Should that happen, it will be the first time Liverpool have kept four in succession since April 2022.

The likes of Van Dijk and Konate have stood out, producing brilliant performances this season, but special praise should also go to Caoimhin Kelleher for his expertise without Alisson around.

 

8. The man in the middle

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS - Wednesday, October 26, 2022: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (C) celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Group A matchday 5 game between AFC Ajax and Liverpool FC at the Amsterdam Arena. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez from Spain will referee Thursday’s game, in what will only be his second Europa League outing of the season.

The other was Brighton‘s 1-0 win over Marseille at the Amex Stadium back in December when he showed seven yellow cards.

Martinez has overseen four Champions League matches this term, including Galatasary’s 3-3 draw at home to Man United, and Man City‘s 3-1 victory at FC Copenhagen last month.

The only Liverpool game the 40-year-old has refereed was the 3-0 triumph at Ajax in the Champions League group stage back in 2022/23, with Salah, Nunez and Elliott getting the goals.

 

9. Follow the match with TIA

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 2, 2024: Liverpool's Darwin Núñez (C) celebrates with team-mates (L) Jayden Danns and Luis Díaz (R) after scoring the winning goal in the ninth minute of injury time during the FA Premier League match between Nottingham Forest FC and Liverpool FC at the City Ground. Liverpool won 1-0. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Sparta Prague is live on TNT Sports from 5pm (UK), with the match getting underway at 5.45pm.

No watching The Chase for you!

TIA’s matchday live blog will be in full swing from 5pm, too, with Henry Jackson keeping you entertained throughout the evening.