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Europa League | Round of 16 | 1st Leg
Mar 7, 2024 at 5.45pm UK
Epet Arena
Liverpool logo

Sparta Prague
1 - 5

Bradley (46' og.)
Krejci (62'), Zeleny (73')
FT(HT: 0-3)
Mac Allister (7' pen.), Nunez (25', 45+3'), Diaz (53'), Szoboszlai (90+4')

Preview: Sparta Prague vs. Liverpool - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Thursday's Europa League clash between Sparta Prague and Liverpool, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Returning to Europa League duty, Liverpool make the taxing trip to Sparta Prague's epet Arena for the first leg of their last-16 tie on Thursday evening.

While the Reds bypassed the knockout round playoffs by finishing first in Group E, Brian Priske's side had to pull off an astounding comeback against Champions League drop-outs Galatasaray.

Match preview

Sparta Prague coach Brian Priske before the match on February 15, 2024© Reuters

Two-legged victories in the 2023-24 Europa League was nothing new for Sparta Prague, who were sent packing by Copenhagen in the preliminary Champions League rounds and had to eliminate Dinamo Zagreb in the final Europa League qualifying phase to even reach the group stage.

Only two points separated Rangers, Sparta and Real Betis in Group C, where the Czech Fortuna Liga champions settled for a runners-up finish to set up a daunting date with Galatasaray, fresh from taking four points from two Champions League affairs with Manchester United.

Priske's men did not enjoy a memorable stopover in Turkey as they were bested 3-2 in the first leg, but with the reverse fixture tied at 1-1, a remarkable 20-minute flurry saw Sparta Prague make the net bulge on three occasions to seal a thrilling 4-1 win on the night and a 6-4 aggregate success.

Now bidding to reach the Europa League quarter-finals for just the second time under its current name - their 2015-16 run ended at the hands of Villarreal in the last eight - Priske's side host Liverpool on the back of consecutive meetings with bitter foes Slavia Prague, whom they beat in extra time in the Czech Cup before a 0-0 draw in league action.

That drab stalemate was enough to keep the reigning champions four points clear at the top of the Fortuna Liga standings, and not since their Champions League qualifying exit to Copenhagen in August have they been put to the sword at epet Arena, going unbeaten in 15 home games since then.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp pictured on March 2, 2024© Reuters

However, only one of Sparta's last 16 European clashes with English teams has seen the Maroons come up trumps, and Liverpool arrive in the Czech Republic having already lifted one road curse this month, albeit in highly contentious circumstances at Nottingham Forest's City Ground.

Benefitting from an incorrect drop-ball decision according to the laws of the game, Jurgen Klopp's unit achieved their first-ever Premier League win away to the Tricky Trees courtesy of their latest winning goal on record in the competition - scored by Darwin Nunez in the 99th minute - to remain in control of their quadruple destiny.

Still one point clear of Manchester City after finding themselves on the right side of that controversial call, Liverpool - who have already been crowned EFL Cup winners and also have an FA Cup quarter-final with Manchester United to look forward to - resume their Europa League adventure on the back of pipping Toulouse, Union SG and LASK Linz to first place in Group E as expected.

The Merseyside giants did not blow the competition to smithereens as one may have assumed, though - suffering away losses to Toulouse and Union SG - and they have strikingly failed to win any of their last 11 Europa League knockout games away from home; now-defunct Romanian club Unirea Urziceni were their last such victims in 2009-10.

A six-game winning run in all competitions stands Liverpool in good stead, though - even if their injury list suggests otherwise - but on their only previous visit to Sparta territory in the 2010-11 last 32, the Reds were stunted in a goalless stalemate.

Sparta Prague Europa League form:

Sparta Prague form (all competitions):
  • L
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • D

Liverpool Europa League form:

Liverpool form (all competitions):

Team News

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their third goal on February 17, 2024© Reuters

A trio of Sparta Prague players are now eligible for Europa League action again after missing the second-leg beating of Galatasaray through suspension - captain Ladislav Krejci, top assister Veljko Birmancevic and left-back Matej Rynes are all back.

However, right-back Andreas Vindheim was not included in the hosts' Europa League knockout squad due to a season-ending injury, and Priske was forced to take centre-back Filip Panak off at half time in the weekend's draw with Slavia Prague.

Panak's current status is unclear, but Asger Sorensen and Patrik Vydra are both waiting in the wings to deputise in defence, while 10-goal marksman Jan Kuchta - who has scored in his last three Europa League appearances - leads the line.

As for Liverpool - who have no players suspended or close to suspension - Klopp received a quadruple fitness boost in the narrow win at Nottingham Forest, where match-winner Nunez, Wataru Endo, Dominik Szoboszlai and Andrew Robertson were all fit to play a part.

The medical team are still working overtime, though, 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, while Jayden Danns is also out due to concussion.

Thigh victim Mohamed Salah should be the next to exit the infirmary and has been named in the travelling squad, but with Manchester City to come at the weekend, Klopp ought to encase his star man in bubble wrap this week.

Sparta Prague possible starting lineup:
Vindahl; Vitik, Krejci, Sorensen; Preciado, Kairinen, Laci, Rynes; Birmancevic, Kuchta, Haraslin

Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Kelleher; Gomez, Quansah, Van Dijk, Tsimikas; McConnell, Endo, Szoboszlai; Elliott, Gakpo, Koumas

SM words green background

We say: Sparta Prague 1-1 Liverpool

Not since September have Sparta Prague conceded more than one goal in a competitive home fixture, and Priske's resilient charges ought to feel optimistic of prolonging that sequence against a Liverpool side who historically do not travel well in the Europa League.

With selection dilemmas aplenty given their significant absentees and impending battle with Manchester City, the Reds may be happy to leave Prague with a first-leg draw before attempting to complete the job at Anfield in the return fixture.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

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Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring their third goal on February 17, 2024
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Group A

QWest Ham650115
4Backa Topola60151

Group B

4AEK Athens61144

Group C

QSparta Prague631210
4Aris Limassol61144

Group D

QSporting Lisbon632111
3Sturm Graz61144

Group E

3Union SG62228

Group F

3M. Haifa61235

Group G

QSlavia Prague650115
4Sheriff Tiraspol60151

Group H

QB. Leverkusen660018

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