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.

Darwin Nunez celebrates scoring for Liverpool against Sparta Prague in the Europa League
Darwin Nunez’s first goal goal was the 1,000th that Liverpool have scored across all competitions under Jurgen Klopp, with this being their 476th game under him

Salah returns as five-star Reds turn on style

As far as the result is concerned, this could not have gone any better for Reds boss Klopp.

The appearance of Salah back on the pitch was also a welcome sight. He had the ball in the net five minutes after coming on with a curling finish, but it was ruled out for a tight offside.

However, Konate’s withdrawal so soon after going down hurt, and Gomez being replaced at the break by Bradley, will be a concern.

It remains to be seen whether Klopp was being cautious with both players before a domestic game of huge significance at the weekend.

Liverpool have had to call on their young players after being stretched by injuries, but with the worst of the club’s injury problems apparently clearing, there was no teenager in the starting XI.

In an open game, the visitors scored from five of their 11 attempts on target.

Kelleher performed heroics at the other end, producing six saves in total, while Veljko Birmancevic missed an easy chance when Sparta were two goals down.

Mohamed Salah in action for Liverpool against Sparta Prague in the Europa League
Mohamed Salah had 11 touches, one shot on target and one disallowed goal after coming on in the 74th minute

Kesh Awefada

Kesh Awefada

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