US TV: Direct TV at 1pm (channel 481), delayed at 5pm Eastern on GolTV
Well it can hardly be worse than last time, no?
The second leg takes place tonight at Anfield, and the first leg feels like it was about three years ago. Maybe that's because the match felt like it took two years to complete, but either way tonight's encounter should be much more enjoyable for the eye. Liverpool have to go for it, and though I expect that to bring a win that will leave some space for some Sparta chances as well.
While some have speculated that with Agger at full strength, Liverpool will return to the 3-4-2-1 that brought success against Stoke and Chelsea, I'm not so sure. To me it seems that was specifically designed for Chelsea, and the Stoke match was used as a testing ground for that. With Joe Cole being touted all week, I expect him to slide in behind either Kuyt or Ngog in a 4-2-3-1 with Meireles and Lucas deeper, assuming Meireles is fit. Agger returns with Skrtel, with Carragher rested for the weekend is the guess here. Kelly and Johnson will man the flanks as usual, although I certainly didn't mind what I saw of Danny Wilson and if he were preferred to keep on of the first choice fullbacks fresh for Sunday at West Ham (which is probably more important), then that'd be fine with me.
We didn't get to see much of what Sparta can do last Thursday, as Pool were so boring and defensive it really limited them. That said, the lack of ambition from the Reds should have seen the Czech side coming at us more and trying to take a lead at home instead of banking on a score draw from a more inspired Liverpool side at home. We know they're dangerous out wide, from the left more to the point, and this Kwueke character is a handful. Big, strong strikers tend to give Skrtel fits, but he handled it well in Prague last time, save for one chance.
That said, I didn't see anything that puts me in fear as long as Liverpool come out swinging and show the kind of verve we've seen since King Kenny took over (Wigan match excluded). While it's not a Champions League date or a sexy opponent, Anfield certainly will be drooling at the thought of a first European night under our patron saint, so the atmosphere should be cracking, and generally the players respond when that happens. Call here is Ngog opens the scoring (I think he's probably starting up top) and Cole bags one as well.
And moving on...