Liverpool have drawn Sparta Prague in the first knockout round of the Europa League. My first thought is that I'm jealous of the Scousers who'll be traveling to the away match, as Prague is a brilliant city, but the last time I wrote that was last year's Champions League group – where Liverpool traveled to Florence, Lyon, and Budapest. That didn't work out so well. And, as has been commonplace, I can't help but mention how dire Liverpool have been away from Anfield. Nonetheless, here's hoping this goes slightly better.
Sparta Prague are currently second in the Czech League, which is now on its winter break. The away leg, which will be played first, will be Sparta's first match since the last of the Europa League group phase. The Czech League's break lasts from the end of November until the end of February.
Sparta finished second in their Europa League group, behind CSKA Moscow and ahead of Palermo and Lausanne, with two wins, three draws, and one loss. The two wins came at home against Palermo and Lausanne, the one loss was away to CSKA. Palermo were heavily favored to qualify ahead of the Czech side, but disappointed throughout the group stage.
Prague have a few notable names. Marek Matejovsky scored a memorable cracker against Liverpool while at Reading. Veterans Tomas Repka and Libor Sionko should ring a bell; Repka played for West Ham while Sionko's been fixture in the Czech national team and had a stint for Rangers. Ivorian Wilfred Bony (phenomenal name) is Sparta's top scorer, having tallied 16 goals in all competitions this season, and is only 22 years old.
As Liverpool are seeded, they'll play the first leg away and the second at Anfield. The matches will take place February 17 and 24. If they somehow make it past Prague, they'll face the winners of Lech Poznan v Braga.