Nicknames: Železná Sparta (Iron Sparta), Rudí (The Reds).
Founded: November 16 1893.
Stadium: Generali Arena, Prague (Stadion Letná).
Coach: Zdeněk Ščasný.
Champions League elimination at the hands of Steaua Bucharest consigned Sparta to Europa League football this season, after they followed up a 1-1 draw at home with a 2-0 defeat in the Romanian capital. This resulted in the Czech club facing a battle with SønderjyskE to secure their spot in the group stage of Europe’s secondary competition. A 0-0 stalemate in Denmark left the tie in the balance before Sparta clinched progression with a 3-2 victory at home. However, Southampton taught Zdeněk Ščasný’s side a harsh lesson by hammering them 3-0 on the opening matchday.
Sparta’s 19,416 capacity ground first opened in 1917 and also plays host to the Czech national team’s home fixtures. Formerly known as the Stadion Letná, nowadays the atmosphere is rarely as raucous as it once was during the glory days of Czech football. Intensity-wise, Inter have endured and triumphed in much more hostile surroundings.
Sparta, like many European sides, are perennial contenders for domestic honours. However, in recent years especially, they have quite simply found themselves unable to rise to the challenge of continental cup competition.
This was apparent yet again in their recent 3-0 loss to Southampton. They set up in a rigid 3-5-2 formation, intent on frustrating their hosts and keeping things tight for as long as possible. In truth, this scenario never looked likely to unfold.
The fact Sparta endured such a struggle to maintain possession, managing a mere 78.6% passing accuracy at St Mary’s Stadium, meant it was always going to be a tough night. Inter, on the other hand, should go to Prague looking to dominate their opponent and assert their authority on the game.
The Czechs simply could not match the Saints’ intensity two weeks ago, and Claude Puel’s side ran out easy winners on the night. This is in-keeping with the general pattern of play in European competition; teams from smaller leagues cannot cope with the intense pressure they find themselves under when facing sides from the top leagues.
Inter must seek to exploit this glaring weakness. Playing with pace and purpose will provide a clear route to victory tomorrow night in Prague.
David Lafata, a vastly experienced 35-year-old forward, is the club captain and his impressive goalscoring record means he is still a force to be reckoned with. His record of 20 goals in 26 league appearances last season as well as five in 11 in Europe shows the threat he poses to opposition defences.
Despite there being very few positives to be taken from their heavy loss to Southampton, WhoScored.com gave defensive midfielder Lukáš Mareček an overall rating of 6.44, despite the fact he only played the final 26 minutes. This made him Sparta’s most efficient player in the opening match. It will be interesting to see whether he is tasked with providing extra solidity to Sparta’s line-up tomorrow.
As was the case with Hapoel Be’er Sheva, there is a notable gulf in class between Inter and their opponent – on paper that is. However, Interisti know all too well that football is not played on paper and so Frank De Boer’s men must be ready to fight for victory in Prague. Qualification to the round of 32 might just depend on the attitude displayed on the pitch this Thursday evening.