Liverpool hit Sparta Prague for six to ease through to Europa League quarter-finals

Mo Salah returns to the starting XI for the first time since January with a goal and three assists in a 90-minute display

Europa League: Liverpool 6 Sparta Prague 1 (Liverpool win 11-2 on aggregate)

This was an unadulterated duck shoot for Liverpool and the apt way to send a shudder through Manchester United ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford.

Jürgen Klopp’s admirable side are into Friday’s quarter-final draw via a goal-fest that required, metaphorically, an abacus to keep count because when Cody Gakpo touched in his second on 55 minutes that was 6-1 on the night and 11-2 on aggregate.

Mohamed Salah’s successful return to the XI for the first time since New Year’s Day is the headline news ahead of the cup tie versus United. His contribution: a goal and three assists and the completion of the match. Further reason for Erik ten Hag’s team to ponder their fate this weekend.

There was only one way Klopp would instruct his men to play and this was their usual breathless attack-mode. Within six minutes a first dividend was reaped as Brian Priske’s men were rocked – as they would be three more times before the quarter-hour mark.


Darwin Núñez’s opener was simple. Dominik Szoboszlai was fed along the right and he pulled the ball back for the number nine to drive home.

The next came straight from the kick-off in what was a defensive horror show. Ladislav Krejci allowed himself to be robbed by Salah, he found Bobby Clark and the young midfielder beat Peter Vindahl for his first senior goal.

Seven-one soon became 8-1 overall. This time Jaroslav Zeleny was the visitors’ culprit as, in a role-reversal, Clark dispossessed the centre-back, tapped to Salah, and he swept home emphatically.

Shell-shocked and embarrassed already, Sparta soon felt worse. Salah, again, was the provider, as the Czech champions fell apart. The Egyptian was given an age to play in Cody Gakpo, who made no mistake, for 9-1 and tie over, and United surely enjoying this about as much as those in black.

A yawning 20 minutes passed before Vindahl’s goal was seriously threatened once more. Salah miscued a shot, the ball bobbled to Núñez, and from close range he skied the effort, provoking a Klopp chortle. Clark, inspired, next went close, selling a dummy in Sparta’s area that allowed him to let go a piledriver Vindahl repelled.

Salah ended the period beating his hands in frustration at not being able to add to the score; Priske was sighted clapping at Veljko Birmancevic’s strike, the midfielder running through and beating Caoimhín Kelleher to the Liverpool goalkeeper’s left.

For the second half Klopp changed Joe Gomez, Núñez and Wataru Endo for Kostas Tsimikas, Harvey Elliott and James McConnell and soon, it was 5-1 on the night, Szoboszlai’s goal coming at a canter. The number eight wandered along an inside-right diagonal toward goal, shot, and the ball pinged off Krejci and past Vindahl to his left, Salah the assist-man once more.

The question was how long might the Egyptian magician last before Klopp removed him. Long enough for him to witness Elliott power the shot that had Gakpo flicking beyond Vindahl to tee the Dutchman up for a hat-trick. As the hour passed on came Virgil van Dijk for a run out ahead of Sunday’s trip up the M62 – Klopp replacing Jarell Quansah, though not before the German drew a yellow card for a touch of sideline dissent. The manager greeted this with a grin to the bench, then hugged Quansah, who might have observed the contest from a deckchair.

Klopp stated that it would be silly to consider him having a rethink on departing his post. Sure – but he would not be human if there were no secret second thoughts due to the vibrant squad his successor inherits.

- Guardian