Sparta Prague welcome partisan at the Generali Ceska Pojistovna Arena on Thursday evening for the duo’s first leg Europa Conference League knockout playoffs.
The hosts qualified for the playoffs by finishing third in Europa League Group A, while the visitors finished second in the Conference League group stages behind Ghent.
Two and a half games into their Europa League campaign, Sparta Prague looked to be in a very promising position, having won an important game with Rangers 1-0 after a draw with Brondby, and 2-1 at home. against Lyon after 45 minutes.
However, that 2-1 lead would turn into a 4-3 loss, and after another loss to Les Gones followed by a 2-0 loss to Rangers, qualification was already impossible after five games due to the Scottish team with the better goal difference in their head-to-head matches.
Pavel VrbaThe squad were at least able to secure consolation of a place in the Conference League playoffs with a 2-0 win over Brondby sealing third place in Group A and will now be aiming for their first-ever play silverware in European competition. in the newly formed third tier of UEFA knockout tournaments.
Iron Sparta qualified for the quarter-finals of the Europa League, the UEFA Cup and the former Cup Winners’ Cup, but never reached the last four.
To do so this campaign, they will first have to fight their way past a team that boasts a recent national record much better than their own.
While Sparta are currently third in the Czech Premier League, behind local rivals Slavia Prague and Viktoria Plzen, Partizan have a five-point lead at the top of the Serbian SuperLiga.
Still unbeaten after 22 games of the season, on a six-game winning streak in the league and with 13 wins in their last 14 games, they look destined for the title.
Last year it was local rivals Red Star Belgrade who went unbeaten and claimed the crown, but they are now five points behind Partizan and are unlikely to catch up.
The Black-Whites also put in a strong performance in the Conference League group stage, picking up eight points on their way to second place.
Sparta will be a significant step up in terms of their opponents though, and they will need to build on all the momentum gained in their home country to secure a place in the knockout stages.
Form of Sparta Prague (all competitions):
Partizan Europa Conference League form:
Partizan form (all competitions):
For their last league game against Plzen, Vrba brought david hanko in the defensive square of a 4-5-1 configuration.
David Pavelka and Adam Hlozek returns to midfield, with Jakub Pesek and Lucas Haraslin operating on the wings and Martin Minchev at the top of the attack.
The starting XI will likely look the same after an impressive recovery after two goals in this game.
Aleksandar Stanojevic will also stick to a winning formula – his favorite 3-4-2-1 formation with Cape Verde Gomes Ricardo lead the line.
Possible starting line-up of Sparta Prague:
Holec; Wiesner, Panak, Celustka, Hancko; Pesek, Pavelka, Sacek, Hlozek, Haraslin; Mincev
Possible Partizan starting line-up:
Popovic; Slobodan, Igor, Sinisa; Milos, Nemanja, Bibras, Danilo; Sasa, Queensy; Ricardo
We say: Sparta Prague 2-0 Partizan
Partizan will likely sit deep and try to catch their opponents at the counter, but the hosts should have enough to seal the win. We back a 2-0 win for Sparta.