Sparta Prague 0
They say preparation is everything to completing a good job. However, to the uninitiated preparation can be very, very boring. Scrubbing the walls before painting them, revising the script before acting in the play or pounding the road in the ahem… wind and the rain before winning gold in the Olympic marathon?
Football I guess is no different and hopefully this rather uneventful game will be the prelude to a finishing off the tie in a more positive way at Anfield next week? However, I’m not complaining. This was a throw back to the glory years of Europe that Kenny was such an integral part of. The ploy designed to take the sting out of the opposition and crowd and bide our time until we get a better opportunity at home was a familiar one. Behind every Liverpool European trophy win there was the odd game or two of “preparation”, it’s not always palatable but, in the long run, it pays benefits and instills discipline ? Yes folks “preparation”, via games like these, is good for the footballing soul, honest!
Kenny rang a few changes but without diluting the strength of the side too much. He went for five across the back but it was an unfamiliar line up Aurelio, Wilson, Kyrgiakos, Carragher and Johnson, back on the right this time. Lucas anchored midfield behind Maxi, Meireles and Kuyt with Ngog, in for the cup tied Suarez, up front.
We began well and although we made little inroad, we kept the ball for what seemed to be ages. However, the Czech’s finally got going and the first chance of note fell to them with Pamic (“…in the streets of London”!!) easily sussing out what we’ve known about Glen Johnson’s defending for some time and flashing a cross shot that was well saved by Reina. Matejovsky then went close but Kyrgiakos managed to get his body in the way so that Jose wasn’t troubled again.
It was a bland half hour. Prague looked jaded and tentative as any side would who had just emerged from their winter break. We looked either devoid of ideas or, perhaps with an eye on Anfield in the second leg, just content to soak up the minutes by knocking the ball around. I wasn’t until just before the half time whistle that we managed to carve out a chance. Ngog’s header from Meireles’ corner bounced wide of the post with Kuyt, all arms and legs, trying in vain to steer it into the net.
Joe Cole came on for an injured Aurelio but it didn’t change much. In terms of the venue and the tie it was a satisfactory half however, if you were looking for entertainment it was probably as soporific as a Munford and Sons CD!
The second half followed the first in its uneventfullness (is that a word?). Johnson got forward a bit more and put in a few decent crosses and had one effort cutting in only to waft the ball wide of the far post with outside of his boot. However, it is summed up by the fact the TV was showing action replays of crosses that were easily cut out by the defenders! Reina moaned to the referee about the ball but neither side was able to improve with the replacement! Someone in the crowd set off a flare!
Finally the tedium was broken with Kweuke’s shot on the turn from a corner which forced Reina to get his knees dirty diving to his left to save well. With around ten minutes left Kenny made his intentions clear by bringing on the Slovak Skrtel for Ngog to predictable jeers from the Czech crowd.
Ngog didn’t really build on the good form he displayed in the earlier stages of this competition. It’s always hard to play up front when you are on your own however, he didn’t really do himself any favours failing to hold the ball up until support could arrive and generally giving the Sparta defenders an easy time. I suspect he doesn’t need me writing like this as no doubt with, Carroll and Suarez waiting in the wings, he is cursing himself at the missed opportunity?
Prague nearly broke the deadlock with a long range, but wide, effort from Vacek. The fourth official signaled three minutes of added time. It was three minutes too much. However, it’s out of the way now. For neutrals it wasn’t satisfactory from an entertainment point of view but for Liverpool fans, with patience and an appreciation of the wider picture, the result was. Half the job done!
Sparta Prague: Blazek, Repka, Brabec, Abena, Pamic, Matejovsky (Pekhart 90+2), Kusnir, Vacek, Kweuke, Kadlec (Zeman 89), Keric (Sionko 73) Substitutes: Zitka, Bondoa, Husek, Podany, Sionko, Zeman, Pekhart
Liverpool: Reina, G Johnson, Aurelio (Cole 38), Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Carragher, Meireles, Maxi, Lucas, Kuyt, Ngog (Skrtel 84), Substitutes: Gulacsi, Kelly, Skrtel, Cole, Conor Coady, Pacheco, Jovanovic