Liverpool beat Sparta Prague 5-1 away in Europa League last-16 first leg

Match reportLiverpool beat Sparta Prague 5-1 away in Europa League last-16 first leg

By Sam Williams at Stadion Letna


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Liverpool assumed a commanding position in their Europa League last-16 tie with Sparta Prague by winning the first leg 5-1 at Stadion Letna.

The Reds led 3-0 at half-time of Thursday’s match in the Czech capital courtesy of Alexis Mac Allister’s early penalty and a stunning brace from Darwin Nunez.

A Conor Bradley own goal in the early stages of the second half offered Sparta a faint chance of mounting an unlikely comeback, but that hope was quickly extinguished by Luis Diaz’s 53rd-minute strike.

And Dominik Szoboszlai then bagged a fifth in stoppage time to put Jürgen Klopp’s team firmly in control ahead of next week’s return leg at Anfield.

Sunday’s meeting with Manchester City comes first, of course, and there was mixed news on the fitness front for Liverpool ahead of that top-of-the-table Premier League clash.

Ibrahima Konate had to be replaced early in the second half, while Mohamed Salah came off the bench with around 15 minutes remaining.

Team news

Nunez returned to the starting XI as one of three changes made by Klopp. Wataru Endo and Jarell Quansah also came into the team.

Liverpool: Kelleher, Gomez (Bradley, 46), Endo, Konate (Van Dijk, 50), Diaz (Salah, 74), Nunez (Szoboszlai, 51), Mac Allister (Clark, 65), Gakpo, Elliott, Robertson, Quansah.

Unused subs: Adrian, Mrozek, Tsimikas, Gordon, McConnell, Koumas, Musialowski.

First half

Amid an impressive din created by the home supporters, Liverpool settled quickly and dominated possession early on.

And, seven minutes in, their authoritative start to the game was reflected on the scoreboard as Mac Allister won and converted a penalty.

The No.10 executed a high press to perfection to nick the ball away from Asger Sorensen inside the area, with the Sparta defender then taking him out with a desperate lunge. Mac Allister picked himself up and calmly sent goalkeeper Peter Vindahl the wrong way from 12 yards.

Sparta, though, reacted positively and enjoyed the better of the play prior to Nunez’s first moment of brilliance.

Caoimhin Kelleher made an excellent reaction save from Lukas Haraslin, with Joe Gomez alertly mopping up by hooking the ball away from danger, and Konate then threw himself in the way of a powerful hit by Angelo Preciado.

Another fine Kelleher stop followed soon after as the hosts cranked up the pressure, which was quickly alleviated by Nunez.

The Uruguayan started a counter-attack himself inside his own half and then, after involvement from Diaz and Harvey Elliott, struck home a vicious, dipping shot from fully 25 yards.

After another rally from Sparta, which included Veljko Birmancevic stumbling as he looked certain to slot in the rebound after Kelleher had saved from Jan Kuchta, Liverpool finished the half on top and Vindahl made two superb stops to deny Cody Gakpo before Nunez, again, scored in breathtaking fashion.

Mac Allister found the No.9 with a clever, lofted pass and, from an angle while running away from goal on the edge of the penalty area, Nunez placed a perfect half-volley into the far corner.

Second half

Sparta were gifted a route back into the tie almost immediately after the restart as the unfortunate Bradley, who replaced Gomez at the break, inadvertently redirected Birmancevic’s cross past Kelleher.

Kelleher then thwarted Haraslin as the home side looked to capitalise further on their momentum and a poor start to the second period for Liverpool was compounded when Konate was forced off.

However, the Reds reasserted themselves and restored their three-goal cushion in the 53rd minute when Diaz collected Elliott’s pass and poked in the visitors’ fourth of the evening via a deflection.

Salah was introduced with 74 minutes played and the Egyptian looked typically sharp. Indeed, it appeared that he had marked his comeback with a late goal when he swept home a pass from fellow substitute Szoboszlai, only for offside to be awarded following a VAR review.

But Szoboszlai himself would add Liverpool’s fifth in stoppage time by finishing well at the end of an incisive, driving run.



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