Kenny's big night like old times but Reds squad a shadow of past greats
LIKE old times. King Kenny in the saddle and Liverpool inching their way through steely grey fog in some far-flung Eastern outpost of Europe to a scoreless draw.
Okay, Prague is only a cheap flight away these days and the fog was generated by some extraordinarily potent smoke flares tossed around in the Sparta Prague Kop, but you get the picture.
This was the way Liverpool campaigned when Kenny Dalglish was Anfield's best striker and again when he was manager. When a formula works, why change it?
It was a dogged enough performance noteworthy for some decent saves by Pepe Reina and not a lot else.
In the duller spells, of which there were many, there was a sneaking regret that the fans didn't lob a few more smoke bombs into the mix. Nothing would have been missed if the referee had called a premature halt.
Dalglish remains unbeaten in the last six games and he has achieved this with a ghost of the squad he used to travel with before Heysel.
He can make a virtue of the Europa Cup if Liverpool can somehow win it and add to three previous victories in the UEFA Cup (73, 76, 2001) to move to the top of the all-time list ahead of Inter and Juventus.
That's the kind of statistical impact Liverpool used to make and even if the Europa Cup is a pale shadow of the Champions League or even the UEFA Cup, Dalglish would dearly love to win it and leave an unlikely mark on the season.
But his problem is the same one he's been grappling with since he walked back into Anfield just over a month ago.
No matter what way he tries to arrange his resources, he cannot avoid the fact that his squad is filled with average players. Dirk Kuyt will always be Dirk Kuyt and Joe Cole will always be Joe Cole.
Contrast that to the standard Dalglish and all Liverpool fans once knew and continue to aspire to; a standard which was on view at the Emirates on Wednesday night.
Liverpool are light years away from the kind of football Barcelona and Arsenal luxuriate in and it will take a lot more of Dalglish's magic and John Henry's cash to bring them there.
Fortunately, it looks like Tom Hicks won't be able to interfere too much with that process. He cannot sue for his Liverpool losses in the USA and that's a big result for Henry and the Fenway Sports Group.
The current quality available might be enough to contain a lightweight Sparta Prague, currently in the middle of a three-month winter break, but it probably won't be enough against some of the stronger sides still in the competition.
Porto, Spartak Moscow, Dynamo Kiev, Villareal, and Bayer Leverkusen are all likely to be involved in the next round.
But Dalglish will remain optimistic. He still has Andy Carroll to throw into the fight and he sent a message to all his players when he brought wonderkid Raseem Sterling to the Czech Republic along with Conor Coady and John Flanagan -- two lads who must be worth a call from someone in the FAI if they haven't had one already.