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Saturday, 26 February 2011
LIVERPOOL 1-0 SPARTA PRAGUE
After the dull goaless draw in Prague last week it was time to find a winner in this Europa League second leg tie. With an unusually early kick-off time of 6 o'clock it was tremendous to see a packed Anfield for this match, obviously showing the importance of this competition. Everybody certainly was anticipating goals in this one. With Sparta just back from their winter break and Liverpool having a full week to prepare for the match there should be no excuse for tiredness. Liverpool were strong favourites going into this match especially after the creditable no score draw from the first leg.
Dalglish made 4 changes from last weeks match in the hope of getting some goals. Kelly back in the team to bomb forward with Wilson at left back again with Kyrgiakos and fit again Agger in the middle of defence with Carragher being rested. Joe Cole was brought back into the side on the left with Lucas and Poulsen in the middle with Kuyt on the right. Meireles pushing forward supporting N'Gog in attack.
Liverpool attacked from the off and had a big shout for a penalty when a Meireles cross hit the hand of Parnic but the referee waved away the appeals. Joe Cole who started brightly sent over a misdirected cross which just evaded the bar. Sparta came into the game and looked a different side to the first leg as they started to give Liverpool some problems. Kadlec hit a dipping volley just over Reina's crossbar, then the same player had a header well saved by Reina as Sparta showed more venture. Liverpool had the next chance with a brilliant header from a corner well saved from Blazek. Kelly was looking like Liverpool's best attacking ploy with his strong runs forward, the next chance in the match came from a Kelly cross which Cole headed well wide. Sparta had the next chance with a corner which caught Reina flapping at, but thankfully Wilson was there to head clear. The next chance was created by Kelly as his perfect cross was met by Meireles but his half volley was skied over the bar. N'Gog had another chance before half time but it was well saved by Blazek. So the sides went in at 0-0 at half-time but Liverpool were dealt a blow with Kelly having to be replaced by Carragher due to injury. Early in the second half N'Gog had two chances in the first five minutes for Liverpool. Then on 55 minutes Matejovski hit a free-kick straight into the Liverpool wall. But Sparta's defence was proving stubborn as Liverpool were having more of the chances, Cole and Kuyt had chances brilliantly deflected to safety, then on 74 minutes Meireles sent N'Gog clear but Blazek saved well from a tight angle. As the game looked set for extra time Dirk Kuyt pounced to give Liverpool the lead on 86 minutes with a clever header from a Meireles corner. Liverpool held on for the remainding minutes and progressed to the last 16 of the competition.
It turned out to be a very tough match for Liverpool as Sparta looked a much improved side. But I felt Liverpool had a few players underperforming with the likes of Lucas and Poulsen especially poor. However, Kelly was a big threat going forward and I was disheartened when he came off at half-time. Kyrgiakos had a very strong game in defence with Meireles working his socks off in midfield and always looking to create. I was disappointed once again with N'Gog as he was given a few chances but unable to score. Joe Cole started quite well but faded I was hoping for more from him. Wilson had another steady game at the back and I was sorry to see Agger pick up another injury. Dirk Kuyt was immense and deserved that winning goal. Overall Sparta made it tough for us and it was a tough game but we did well to scrape through with so many players missing.
Man Of The Match - Kuyt - Workaholic, never stopped, created chances and deserved a goal, superb match.