Liverpool put five past Sparta Prague to take control – Europa League

Last 16 1st leg 

Sparta Prague 1-5 Liverpool

Liverpool warmed up for Sunday’s huge Premier League encounter with Manchester City in fine fashion as they earned a 5-1 first-leg lead over Sparta Prague in the Europa League last 16.

Alexis Mac Allister benefited from some sloppy Sparta defending to win then score a penalty after just six minutes, but Liverpool relied on some wasteful finishing from their Czech hosts, plus some heroic defending from Caoimhin Kelleher and co, to avoid being pegged back.

But Liverpool added two more before the break through Darwin Nunez, who fired from the edge of the box before volleying into the far corner on the stroke of half-time in the striker’s first start back after a muscle injury.

The second half, however, started in disaster for Liverpool as half-time substitute Conor Bradley conceded an own goal with his first touch of the game, before defender Ibrahima Konate limped off with a concerning injury – though Jurgen Klopp confirmed after the game his substitution was precautionary.

But Luis Diaz’s finish from inside the box restored Liverpool’s three-goal lead eight minutes after the break, before they welcomed back Wataru Endo, Dominik Szoboszlai and Mohamed Salah off the bench after respective injuries.

And it was a happy return for Szoboszlai who added a fifth with the last kick of the game – but attention now turns to Sunday’s huge title six-pointer at Anfield against City.

Sparta were given a Liverpool warning after just two minutes as they gave the ball away on the edge of the box to Endo, who slipped Nunez but he scuffed his finish after rounding the goalkeeper.

Mac Allister opens the scoring from the spot.

Three minutes later, Sparta were punished properly as Asger Sorensen took a heavy touch in the box and Mac Allister nipped in and was brought down by the same defender. The Argentine dusted himself off and sent goalkeeper Peter Vindahl Jensen the wrong way from the spot.

Despite the early setback, Sparta – who came into the game with an unbeaten home record this season – produced chance after chance in the first half.

Striker Jan Kuchta’s cross from the right found Lukas Haraslin in the box for what looked like a simple finish, but Kelleher stuck out an outstretched arm to parry well, before Gomez cleared it off the line.

Back came Sparta as impressive wing-back Angelo Preciado had two big chances, cutting inside but his low goalbound shot was diverted over by Konate. Then the Sparta wide man had a header flicked on by Martin Vitik, but Kelleher tipped it over using some excellent reflexes.

Just as Sparta began knocking on the door, Liverpool struck with their second as a counter attack saw Nunez cut inside on the edge of the box, before firing past Jensen with a finish high in the middle of the goal.

Sparta had more chances before the break as Kuchta fired over from Preciado’s cross, before Veljko Birmancevic somehow missed an open goal as Kuchta’s shot was saved by Kelleher. Haraslin then missed another good opportunity as he rounded Kelleher but slipped as he tried to finish.

Nunez’s first goal goal was the 1,000th that Liverpool have scored across all competitions under Jurgen Klopp.

Cody Gakpo then had two big chances saved by Jensen and Luis Diaz fired over but Liverpool eventually found a third as Mac Allister lifted a ball over the top for Nunez, who arrowed a volley into the far corner after setting himself.

If the first half ended well for Liverpool, the second started in crisis as Bradley, on for Joe Gomez at the break, smashed Birmancevic’s cross into his own net with his first touch of the ball.

Moments later, Sparta nearly had a second as Birmancevic crossed for Haraslin who could only find Kelleher from close range, but Liverpool’s main concern was seeing Konate pull up with an injury – he was replaced by Virgil van Dijk.

As Liverpool licked their wounds, with Szoboszlai coming on to mark his return from injury, they restored their half-time advantage as Bradley and Harvey Elliott combined down the right to feed Diaz in the box, who finished cooly.

Gakpo missed a few more chances but then it was time for Salah to enter the fray, with the Egyptian winger trusted with the final 14 minutes of the game.

Salah thought he marked a goal back when he finished cooly in the box with ten minutes to play, but VAR ruled out the strike due to offside. Instead, it was Szoboszlai who rounded off the scoring as his solo run and finish through Jensen made it a four-goal lead to take back to Anfield.

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