Liverpool continued their dull passage through the Europa League with a scoreless draw in Prague on Thursday night in what was Kenny Dalglish’s first European test as Liverpool manager.
The Reds took a large squad with them to the Czech Republic capital, including youngsters Raheem Sterling, Jack Robinson, John Flanagan and Tom Ince, but only their under-18 captain Conor Coady figured on the substitutes bench in the end as Dalglish named a largely first-team side out of his available senior players.
The three changes to the team which drew with Wigan last weekend were Soto Kyrgiakos, Danny Wilson and David Ngog, while Raul Meireles was recovered enough from his virus to start behind lone forward Ngog.
Liverpool dominated possession in the first half without creating any clear cut chances; though in truth the game as a whole was bereft of goalmouth action except for two half-chances which fell the way of the home side in the latter stages of the game. Sparta looked quick on the break but their lack of competitive football – they have not played a league game for three months – showed in their final touch and neither goalkeeper was troubled during the first period.
Fabio Aurelio was withdrawn through injury midway through the first half; though the introduction of Joe Cole did little to add excitement to the game.
Suffice to say the game’s biggest talking point was a cloud of smoke which momentarily obscured Reina’s end of the pitch in the second half, causing several minutes’ delay while it cleared.
Pamic in the first half and Kweuke in the second both forced snap saves from Reina, but neither side looked like scoring – Glen Johnson’s stabbed effort wide of the post at the end of a winding run was about the closest Liverpool came to netting, as they failed to find the target at all during the game.
Martin Skrtel was introduced late on for Ngog as Liverpool switched to a back three, but chances were not forthcoming and the game petered out to a tame draw which had looked on the cards since the opening exchanges of the game.
The second leg at Anfield in a week’s time will doubtless be a more competitive and open affair which Liverpool should be comfortable in winning – Sparta offered little to show they will truly trouble the Merseyside team at home – but for now Liverpool and Dalglish will be content with their fourth goalless draw of this Europa League campaign, Liverpool’s fifth clean sheet in the past six fixtures.
Full time in Prague, Spara Praha 0 Liverpool 0. Man of the Match – Soto Kyrgiakos.