Martin Škrtel was a late substitute in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg between Liverpool FC and AC Sparta Praha, and helped close out a 0-0 draw in the Czech capital that, he believes, sets the English club up nicely for Thursday's return at Anfield.
It was a cautious Liverpool that ground out a fourth 0-0 draw from their last six European games, making it seven clean sheets in an 11-match campaign so far. They are now favourites to progress to a last-16 tie against KKS Lech Poznań or SC Braga, and Škrtel feels Liverpool are hitting form at the right time.
"In the last few weeks we've got some good results and that was really important for us, for the players and the club," the Slovakia defender said. "We just hope we carry on.
The Europa League is nice for us and a great chance to win a trophy this season. We all have to give our best for a good result in this competition."
Since the group stage Kenny Dalglish has taken over as manager and Škrtel is enjoying working under a man long synonymous with the Reds. "For me it's a great feeling working with Kenny because he's a legend at the club – an icon," the 26-year-old said.
Dalglish, who has left Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger and new signing Andy Carroll out of the squad for Thursday's decider as they struggle for fitness, confirmed a cautious approach: "As we've always said, if we don't lose any goals we've got a great chance of getting something from the game. That's not to say we're going to set up with a defensive mentality but it just gives us a better opportunity to win matches."
With Liverpool sitting back at Stadion Letná, Sparta right-back Ondřej Kušnír had room to move forward and cause the visitors some headaches. Although Sparta were unable to snatch a lead, the 26-year-old Czech international reckons his side have every chance.
"We were very aware that conceding a goal at home would be damaging to our ambitions, making the match at Liverpool at least twice as hard," he said. "The chances are still 50-50. We will be going to Anfield to score a goal and advance to the next round. That's our target. Hopefully, we will have enough luck."
Kušnír, whose club are still on their domestic winter break and prepared for the Liverpool tie in Dubai and Spain, added: "It is 0-0 at half-time and things are still equal. Liverpool have a great team, they showed that [in Prague]. We did not allow them opportunities to score. On the other hand, we managed to create some good chances.
It is a pity we didn't score, but we are not frustrated at all."
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