PARIS, February 23 – Liverpool and Manchester City are counting on the comforts of home to secure their passage into the Europa League quarter finals on Thursday.
Liverpool host Sparta Prague at Anfield with Danish international Daniel Agger predicting a more attacking display after his side’s drab 0-0 draw in the round of 32 first leg in Prague last week.
City’s tie with Aris Salonika is identically poised ahead of the Greek outfit’s visit to Eastlands, with Roberto Mancini’s men approaching the game in high spirits after their 5-0 FA Cup drubbing of Notts County.
Elsewhere Serie A highflyers Napoli travel to Villarreal after another goalless stalemate in the first leg, while former European kings Ajax are in the driving seat for their trip to Anderlecht after winning last week’s first bout 3-0.
Agger believes home advantage can see Liverpool through to a last 16 match-up with either Portugal’s Sporting Braga or Lech Poznan of Poland.
"We will approach Thursday like we do every home game," he told liverpoolfc.tv.
"Try to get forward and keep the ball, playing attacking football, and at Anfield if we play well, it will be difficult for every team.
"So we’ve got a good chance, but it’s not easy, it’s never easy in the knockout stages."
Agger is well aware of the power of Anfield having scored in Liverpool’s semi-final at the stadium against Chelsea to help the Reds on their way to a penalty shoot-out win and a date with AC Milan in the 2007 Champions League final,
"It was so important, we lost 1-0 away, but we knew we had a good chance back at Anfield," Agger recalled.
"The fans and the crowd in the home tie was unbelievable."
The Danish defender believes the arrival of Kenny Dalglish as Roy Hodgson’s successor has been the making of a team that has conceded just once in their last six outings under the Liverpool legend.
"You have to look at the team which is exactly the same (as under Hodgson). Kenny came in with new ideas, and they made us really happy about playing football.
"That has been the main reason why we’ve improved defensively because we’re keeping the ball going forward."
Napoli’s former Liverpool defender Andrea Dossena in contrast believes Villarreal could come unstuck by playing at home.
"Villarreal will have to leave themselves a little more exposed compared to in Naples," he told uefa.com.
"We know our strengths, so we will try to use them by scoring, and the fact that away goals count double could work in our favour. It’s a great advantage for us that we didn’t concede at home."
Villarreal’s Joan Capdevila warned Napoli to expect a tough night at the Stadio San Paolo.
"We weren’t really happy with the result because 0-0 away from home is not ideal in Europe," the Spanish World Cup winner said.
"If they score in the return, we could get knocked out, so we’d much rather have come away from the first leg with an away goal. The second leg will be very different at El Madrigal, though.
"You’ll see a much more attacking Villarreal and I think it’ll be a very open game, with lots of goalscoring chances."
In Glasgow, last year’s finalists Rangers greet Sporting Lisbon with the disadvantage of having conceded a late away goal in last week’s 1-1 draw.
Rangers captain David Weir commented: "To lose a goal as late as we did after managing to get in front and improving as the game went on, obviously the overall feeling is disappointment.
"I’m sure they will feel they have the upper hand now but I still think we have every chance in the tie."
In Holland Eindhoven mayor Rob Gijzel has taken "emergency" measures for the visit of French side Lille at PSV after violent clashes between fans and police last week in France before the 2-2 draw.