Liverpool defender Martin Kelly believes the squad are now better placed to cope with the dual demands of domestic and European football. Liverpool resume their Europa League season when they fly out to the Czech Republic today ahead of tomorrow's last-32 game against Sparta Prague.
Having gone unbeaten in their last six Premier League matches, Kelly believes restarting their European programme cannot hold any fears for Liverpool. In the group phase, then manager Roy Hodgson chose to use fringe players in order to ensure his first-teamers were not overwhelmed by an arduous campaign, which had disappointed in the early stages.
New manager Kenny Dalglish will have no such concerns and, buoyed by their unbeaten run that has lifted them to sixth and with a free weekend coming up because of the FA Cup, he will select a strong squad.
Morale is high in the camp and – coupled with very few injuries – Kelly believes there is no reason why they cannot be competitive on two fronts – even after the disappointment of a 1-1 draw against Wigan at the weekend ended a four-match winning streak.
"We would have wanted to get the win against Wigan but we have to put it behind us and look to our game against Sparta Prague on Thursday now," said the England Under-21 international. "We've done well to progress and we want to go on to win it but we have to take it one game at a time. Any club can go on and win it so any game as a professional you want to win.
"That's our aim, but we'll take one game at a time. Our next one is the Sparta Prague one and that's what we're focused on. The knockout phase provides a different test to the group stages, you know you are up against good sides.
"We've got to get a good result over there so the second leg will be easier here at Anfield. I think the squad is pulling together now and you can see that on the pitch. We are trying to play our football, which is what we have been told to do, and hopefully we can get the results in the future."
Dalglish will make late decisions on the fitness of Steven Gerrard and Martin Skrtel after both missed the game against Wigan through injury. The manager still will not be able to call on club record signing Andy Carroll, who is continuing his rehabilitation work from a thigh problem at the club's Melwood training ground.
The former Newcastle striker could be set for a debut early next month and vice-captain Jamie Carragher is confident the new arrival will add an extra dimension to Liverpool's play.
"We've had big tall lads, people like Emile Heskey or Peter Crouch, who have done very well for us," said the defender. "But Carroll has that aggression that makes defenders fear him. As a defender you know when you go into certain games against particular players that you're going to have a hard day. There aren't too many of them but I know few people will relish playing against Andy.
"You wake up in the morning and think, 'Ah God – I don't want to play against him.' Everyone who has faced him probably thinks, 'I don't need this today'."
Carragher also believes Carroll will work well alongside fellow new signing Luis Suarez, who has already made an impression. "They can become a partnership and bring other things to the team as a target man and someone who can feed off the pieces," Carragher said. "Likewise, if one is injured, the other is still capable of playing on their own through the middle."