ROY HODGSON has vowed to play his strongest side in the Europa League from now on as he targeted a morale-boosting victory over Fulham at Anfield tonight.
The Liverpool boss was “satisfied” with yesterday’s draw for the last 32 which paired the Reds with Sparta Prague.
They will travel to the Czech capital for the first leg on February 17 before the return at Anfield on February 24. Victory will set up a showdown with either Poland’s Lech Poznan or Portugal’s Braga in the last 16.
Hodgson rested many of his senior players in the group stage but he won’t risk doing likewise in the knockout ties.
“By that stage of the season we’ll be playing three matches a week and I won’t have the luxury I have had so far of sometimes sparing players in the Europa League,” he said.
“We’re at the knockout stage now so I won’t have that option because it will be important to put out our best team every time if we want to go further in the competition.
“I think it’s a very good draw. There are a lot of good teams in the competition, even the unseeded sides.
“A lot of those teams are from the far end of Europe in places which are difficult to get to and about which you would find it difficult to get a lot of information.
“Sparta Prague are a team everyone knows well. Prague is a very reachable city, a very beautiful city and the team will be easier to scout and easier to find information about than the Rubin Kazans and Kharkivs of the draw.
“It is never going to be easy at this stage but I am perfectly satisfied with the draw we have been given. I don’t think we can say we have been badly treated”.
Liverpool have never met Sparta before but the Czech champions were former Reds star Patrik Berger’s final club before he retired in January.
They finished second in Europa League Group F behind CSKA Moscow, picking up nine points in a group which also included Palermo and Lausanne Sports.
Liverpool’s first priority is returning to winning ways in the Premier League and Hodgson is demanding a response against Fulham today after last weekend’s miserable defeat at Newcastle.
“Four games out of the next six at home is important because Anfield has been good to us,” said Hodgson.
“The crowd here certainly has a bearing.
“We are playing lots of teams around us and below us over the next six games so there’s a lot of responsibility.”
Hodgson still hopes to bring in new recruits next month but admits he has no idea how much cash he will be allowed to spend.
He added: “I can only hope we get some of the injured players back and I can also hope if there is any possibility of transfers in the January window that will help us and make us a better team that I’ll be given the opportunity to take those players.
“My ambition to improve, the squad is shared by the owners but we’ll have to wait and see what possibilities there are and what they would like to do.”
The Reds will make a late decision on skipper Steven Gerrard who has returned to full training after a hamstring injury.
The draw for the round of 32 in the Europa League is: Napoli v Villarreal; Rangers v Sporting Lisbon; Sparta Prague v Liverpool; Anderlecht v Ajax; Lech Poznan v Braga; Besiktas v Dynamo Kiev; Basle v Spartak Moscow; Young Boys v Zenit St Petersburg; Aris Salonika v Manchester City; PAOK v CSKA Moscow; Sevilla v Porto; Rubin Kazan v FC Twente; Lille v PSV Eindhoven; Benfica v Stuttgart; BATE v Paris St Germain; Metalist Kharkiv v Bayer Leverkusen
The draw for the round of 16: Benfica/Stuttgart v BATE/Paris St Germain; Besiktas/Dynamo Kiev v Aris Salonika/Manchester City; Rubin Kazan/FC Twente v Young Boys/Zenit St Petersburg; PAOK/CSKA Moscow v Sevilla/Porto; Lille/PSV v Rangers/Sporting Lisbon; Metalist Kharkiv/Bayer Leverkusen v Napoli v Villarreal; Anderlecht/Ajax v Basle/Spartak Moscow; Sparta Prague/Liverpool v Lech Poznan/Braga