Europa League: Nunez hits double as Liverpool cruise to victory

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Liverpool will go into Sunday’s huge Premier League game with Manchester City on the back of a seventh straight win after taking control of their Europa League last-16 tie against Sparta Prague.

The Reds were at their ruthless best in the first leg, scoring three goals before half-time to silence the home fans on a chaotic night in the Czech Republic capital.

They took the lead through Alexis Mac Allister’s sixth-minute penalty after the Argentina World Cup winner had been fouled by Asger Sorensen.

Darwin Nunez’s wonderful dipping finish from outside the penalty area doubled the lead – Liverpool’s 1,000th goal under boss Jurgen Klopp – before the Uruguay forward’s 16th club goal of the season, a fierce shot from the edge of the box, made it 3-0 in first-half added time.

Despite the handsome margin, Liverpool were thankful for Caoimhin Kelleher who once again underlined his importance to the team in the absence of injured first-choice keeper Alisson.

Kelleher made a string of crucial saves including one at 1-0 when he took the sting out of Lukas Haraslin’s shot which saw the ball spin towards the net before Joe Gomez hooked it off the line.

Sparta Prague reduced the deficit when Reds substitute Conor Bradley scored an own goal with his first touch in the 46th minute while trying to make a clearance, only for Luis Diaz to restore his side’s three-goal advantage with a deflected finish seven minutes later.

Substitute Dominik Szoboszlai scored the fifth goal with virtually the last kick.

Liverpool, who saw Mohamed Salah return from a hamstring injury as a 74th-minute substitute and have a goal ruled out for offside, will be confident of advancing to the quarter-finals when the teams meet for the second leg at Anfield on 14 March (20:00 GMT).

Before that, Klopp’s men host defending champions Manchester City in a first-versus-second showdown at Anfield.

It remains to be seen whether Ibrahima Konate, who has been in fine form lately, will feature. The France defender was replaced soon after going down hurt in the second half, while Gomez did not show for the second half either.

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