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Liverpool ease into EL quarters after thumping Sparta Prague

Liverpool eased into the Europa League quarter-finals after thrashing Sparta Prague 6-1 at Anfield to win the tie 11-2 on aggregate.

Jurgen Klopp’s side were ruthless despite leading 5-1 after the first leg, scoring four goals in seven first-half minutes to put the last-16 tie to bed, before Sparta Prague pulled one back through Velko Birmancevic.

Bobby Clark, 19, netted his first senior goal for Liverpool right after Darwin Nunez’s seventh-minute opener. Mohamed Salah and Cody Gakpo then added two more in quick succession to make it 4-0 inside 15 minutes.

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Jay Bothroyd blasted Sparta Prague’s performance against Liverpool as embarrassing

Dominik Szoboszlai’s deflected effort, three minutes into the second half, was quickly followed by Gakpo’s second as Liverpool punished a woeful Sparta Prague performance to claim their biggest aggregate win in Europe.

Liverpool will learn their next opponents in Friday’s draw before heading to Old Trafford on Sunday to face Man Utd in the FA Cup quarter-finals, hoping to keep their quadruple dream alive.

How Liverpool eased into the last eight

Klopp’s side were already virtually guaranteed a quarter-final place but four goals in the opening 13-and-a-half minutes started the rout.

They are 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.

Nunez opened the scoring with a clinical strike from 16 yards 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.

Liverpool team news

  • Mohamed Salah made his first start for Liverpool since returning from a short spell out injured.
  • Bobby Clark, Andy Robertson and Cody Gakpo also came into the team.

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.

Salah enjoyed a fine return to the starting line-up after a short spell out injured, setting up teenager Clark for his first senior Liverpool goal on his European debut after winning the ball deep in opposition territory before scoring his 20th goal of the season.

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.

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

Salah then provided his second assist of the night as he teed up Gakpo to finish off his cross from close-range.

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.

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.

Midfielder Szoboszlai, set up by Salah, added the fifth two minutes into the second half after a fortunate deflection, having assisted Nunez for his 17th goal of the season and his sixth in as many games.

When Sparta Prague goalkeeper 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 for his second.

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.

Bradley: We want to win everything for Klopp

Liverpool full-back Conor Bradley told TNT Sports: “A very good night. We started the game very well obviously, to get the four goals after 10 or 11 minutes was really good and it was a really professional performance.

“When we found out the news about the manager it was hard to take. He is the only manager I’ve really known at this club. So for him to be leaving is sad, but now we just want to win every trophy we can for him and give him the best send-off we can.

Asked about a quadruple: “No we don’t think about it, We just keep ourselves focused on the next game. Keep playing well, keep the performances high and keep going.

Asked about Bobby Clark’s first goal: “I know for me scoring my first goal was a special feeling so I am sure it is the same for him. It was a great finish and I thought he played brilliantly. I am buzzing for him.”

What’s next?

Liverpool are in FA Cup quarter-final action before the international break as they go to Old Trafford to face rivals Manchester United on Sunday; kick-off 3.30pm.

Jurgen Klopp’s side then resume their Premier League title challenge on March 31 as they host Brighton; kick-off 2pm, live on Sky Sports.

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