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Liverpool hit Sparta Prague for six

Liverpool hit Sparta Prague for six

The Reds are in Friday’s Europa League draw

Mohamed Salah warmed up for Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Manchester United with a record-breaking goal in Liverpool’s 6-1 Europa League demolition of Sparta Prague at Anfield.

Jurgen Klopp’s side were already virtually guaranteed a quarter-final place after their 5-1 first-leg victory but four goals in the opening 13-and-a-half minutes started the rout.

They were only the second team in major UEFA competition history to score four inside the first 14 minutes, after Chelsea against Jeunesse Hautcharage in the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971-72, but Salah is one for setting standards not matching them.

The Egypt international, playing his first 90 minutes since New Year’s Day – due to the African Nations Cup and the hamstring injury he sustained playing in the tournament – scored the third goal for his 20th of the campaign.

It was the seventh-successive season he has reached the milestone and the first time any Liverpool player in their 132-year history had achieved such a feat.

If he needed any tuning up before the trip to Old Trafford then the Czech champions provided it as he also claimed two assists in that early blitz, with 19-year-old Bobby Clark benefiting to score his first goal for the club and Cody Gakpo turning home his cross from close range.

Darwin Nunez opened the scoring with a clinical strike from 16 yards – just seven minutes earlier – with the best of the quartet but that was forgotten in the blur of goals which followed as Sparta’s players were left chasing shadows and questioning their own abilities.

When the fourth goal went in, captain Ladislav Krejci, whose mistake had led to the second, called a crisis meeting in the middle of the pitch.

It all seemed a bit futile as even though their task at kick-off was an improbable one, their defending was so naive it bordered on the embarrassing.

Midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai, who added the fifth two minutes into the second half, crossed for Nunez to clip home a shot in the seventh minute for his 17th of the season and his sixth in as many games.

But instead of keeping it tight, the visitors continued to play out from the back and when Salah charged down Krejci, the rebound fell kindly for Clark to slot under goalkeeper Peter Vindahl.

The favour was returned when Clark muscled Jaroslav Zleny off the ball 25 yards out to tee up Salah to curl home his milestone goal, Gakpo then turning home the Egyptian’s cross from close range after more sloppy defending.

Nunez ballooned over Liverpool’s easiest chance from six yards from another Salah cross before Conor Bradley’s fierce drive was parried by the goalkeeper.

Veljko Birmancevic held off the backtracking Wataru Endo to poke a shot past Caoimhin Kelleher just before the break but it was a brief respite as, after Nunez, Endo and Joe Gomez were replaced during the interval, Szoboszlai’s near-post drive took a deflection on the way in.

When Vindahl’s punch at a corner only reached the edge of the area Harvey Elliott fired in a low shot which Gakpo touched in with a cheeky backheel.

The Netherlands international wasted a glorious chance for his hat-trick, blazing over with only the goalkeeper to beat and despite taking his tally to 13 for the season, he is unlikely to start at the weekend.

Klopp’s preferred front three of Salah, Nunez and Luis Diaz will have 48 goals between them and the team as a whole have 117 goals in 45 games.

They will fancy their chances against a United side who have kept just four clean sheets – three of which came against mid-tabled League One opponents Wigan and Premier League strugglers Nottingham Forest and Everton – since they became the only club in the last 55 matches to prevent Liverpool scoring in a goalless draw in December.

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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