Liverpool 6-1 Sparta Prague (agg 11-2): Reds cruise into Europa League quarter-finals after netting four in opening 13 minutes, with Cody Gakpo scoring two and Mo Salah bagging one and lasting full 90
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Liverpool 6-1 Sparta Prague (agg 11-2): Reds cruise into Europa League quarter-finals after netting four in opening 13 minutes, with Cody Gakpo scoring two and Mo Salah bagging one and lasting full 90

Apr 17, 2024

As Liverpool players queued up and took turns to hammer the ball past poor Peter Vindahl in the Sparta Prague goal, you could just imagine Erik ten Hag hiding behind his sofa at home petrified of how Manchester United could be dismantled on Sunday.

Jurgen Klopp’s men obliterated Sparta and made the Czech leaders look like Sunday league fodder with a merciless clinicality that made Treble winners Manchester City’s point here last weekend look incredibly valuable.

But next up is a trip to bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday, with 9,000 Scousers making up the travelling Kop. And on this form, that planned demolition job at Old Trafford could come sooner than we think.

Let’s just hope for the sake of Ten Hag that he did not tune in for the first quarter of an hour or so, as Liverpool fired in four goals inside the first 14 minutes with a flurry of strikes from Darwin Nunez, returning Mohamed Salah, teenager Bobby Clark and Cody Gakpo.

This was the perfect night for Klopp, who balanced resting his key men with giving minutes to those in need of game-time and handing more chances to the Kindergarten Kop, whose latest graduate Mateusz Musialowski made his Reds debut.

Liverpool's Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez opened the scoring at Anfield adrer just seven minutes

Liverpool booked their place in the Europa League quarter-finals after thrashing Czech side Sparta Prague 6-1

Liverpool's Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez opened the scoring at Anfield after just seven minutes before Bobby Clark (above) slotted home his first for the club

Liverpool’s Uruguayan striker Darwin Nunez opened the scoring at Anfield after just seven minutes before Bobby Clark (above) slotted home his first for the club

Dominic Szoboszlai fired in the fifth with the help of a wicked deflection

Dominic Szoboszlai fired in the fifth with the help of a wicked deflection  

But the night belonged to Salah, so often the case over the Egyptian’s years on Merseyside but not much recently given an injury-hit 2024. 

MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS

LIVERPOOL (4-3-3): Kelleher 7; Bradley 7, Quansah 7 (Van Dijk 66min, 6), Gomez 7 (Tsimikas 46, 6), Robertson 7.5; Szoboszlai 8, Endo 7 (McConnell 46, 6), Clark 8 (Musialowski 74, 6); SALAH 9, Nunez 7.5 (Elliott 46min, 6.5), Gakpo 8.

Subs not used: Adrian, Mrozek, Diaz, Mac Allister, Gordon, Koumas, Danns.

Booked: Quansah, Klopp.

Scorers: Nunez 7, Clark 8, Salah 10, Gakpo 14, 55, Szoboszlai 48.

Manager: Jurgen Klopp 7.5.

Referee: Artur Dias (Por) 7.

This was his first start since New Year’s Day and he took his season tally to 20 for the seventh successive campaign, plus a hat-trick of assists.

Salah was even instructed to stop defending later in the game, to manage his fitness through a first 90 minutes in many months. ‘An outstanding player,’ said Klopp. ‘Mo is experienced enough that he recovers during the game.

‘I told him not to defend any more, I never told a player that before! And Bobby (scoring), it is really nice to see the boys develop. It was a real performance. This was not as nerve-wracking as normal, everyone can go home with a normal heart rate, Sunday will be a different game.’

Klopp will take charge of a maximum of seven more Liverpool games at Anfield, which made even this run-of-the-mill tie – which was already well won – feel like a must-not-miss occasion. His exit announcement seems like a masterstroke in terms of reinvigorating fans.

But though the end is nearing ever closer for Klopp’s era on Merseyside, his team are showing no signs of slowing down – and getting more formidable if anything.

The scoreline makes this look like one of the displays of the season, and credit is of course due, but Sparta were abysmal.

The gulf in class was seismic, though at least two of the goals were directly Sparta’s fault, with Salah and Clark taking turns to steal possession then feed the other for a tap-in. Clark, who was confused for father Lee by the stadium announcer, celebrated his first Reds goal.

Mo Salah had a goal and a hattrick of assists on a night where Liverpool ran riot

Mo Salah had a goal and a hattrick of assists on a night where Liverpool ran riot 

Reds manager Jurgen Klopp was delighted as he watched his side star in their biggest win of the season

Reds manager Jurgen Klopp was delighted as he watched his side star in their biggest win of the season

It was a long evening for Sparta Prague goalkeeper Peter Vindahl who conceded six times

It was a long evening for Sparta Prague goalkeeper Peter Vindahl who conceded six times

Nunez had earlier fired Liverpool ahead with a powerful near-post finish after canny work from Dominik Szoboszlai. 

The Uruguayan was playing in his 47th game of a marathon season and is in fine scoring form, though he still managed a customary howler later as he fired wide from five yards.

This was a night to build what Klopp calls ‘rhythm’, plus fitness and confidence, and that was the case for Salah as he steps up his recovery from injury after two substitute appearances, with the Egyptian teeing up Gakpo to end a five-match goalless streak for the Dutchman.

Liverpool eased off slightly from there and allowed Sparta to pull one back through Veljko Birmancevic late in the first half, which sent the travelling fans into frenzy, whether ironically or not. 

Sparta Prague players were stunned after conceding three goals within the first 10 minutes

Sparta Prague players were stunned after conceding three goals within the first 10 minutes

Cody Gakpo finished neatly to end a run of five games without a goal

Cody Gakpo finished neatly to end a run of five games without a goal 

Their fans still enjoyed their trip and sarcastically cheered every pass their side made.

But any hopes of the best comeback in football history did not last long as Szoboszlai took his side’s tally for the tie into double figures early in the second half, before Gakpo diverted substitute Harvey Elliott’s shot goalwards for Liverpool’s sixth.

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