Klopp lauds 'wonderful' Nunez as Liverpool warm up for City clash with crushing Europa win

Reds register comfortable 5-1 victory over Sparta Prague as Mohamed Salah returns from injury

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp praised Darwin Nunez after the striker scored twice during a comfortable 5-1 Europa League victory over Sparta Prague.

The Uruguay international took his tally for the season to 16 - just two behind Mohamed Salah who had a goal disallowed by VAR on his return from injury - with a performance that set him and the team up perfectly for Sunday's visit of Premier League title rivals Manchester City.

Alexis Mac Allister got the visitors off to the perfect start in the Czech capital as he won and converted a penalty after just seven minutes.

Sparta had dumped out Galatasaray in the previous round and created plenty of chances against a weakened Liverpool defence. But the difference in quality between the sides showed in the final third.

Darwin Nunez's dipping shot from long range beat Peter Jensen to make it 2-0, before the Uruguayan smashed home Mac Allister's through ball in first-half stoppage time.

Conor Bradley replaced Joe Gomez at half-time and his first act was to fire into the top corner of his own goal one minute into the second half.

But Luis Diaz's deflected effort quickly restored Liverpool's three-goal cushion.

Salah made his comeback from a hamstring injury as a substitute and thought he had marked his return with a goal, but a VAR review disallowed his strike for offside.

Instead, it was another substitute Dominik Szoboszlai who fired in the fifth in stoppage time.

"He had absolutely more than (an) OK first season but he had to adapt, that's done, and he is settled in the middle of the team," said Klopp of Nunez after the last-16 first leg which has put them within touching distance of the quarter-finals of the only trophy he has not won in his career.

"Wonderful guy, wonderful boy. He loves to play for this team together with these boys and has quality coming out of his ears, to be honest.

"It's like strikers are, they score and then they don't score. Is he at his absolute peak in general? Not now for us. But can he develop? Yes. Is he a threat all the time? Yes.

"He has the most important attitude a striker needs to have; he missed chances but all strikers are doing that but he is not bothered by it and just keeps going.

"That's why he now has a nice number of goals, games to come, opportunities to come.

"When he's not scoring he for us is incredibly important as he is a constant threat and gives us spaces in areas and options."

Meanwhile, Brighton's first foray into European football looks over at the last-16 stage after the Seagulls were thrashed by in-form Roma 4-0.

The Italian giants have only lost once in 10 games since legendary former player Daniele De Rossi replaced the sacked Jose Mourinho in January.

AC Milan beat 10-man Slavia Prague 4-2, but Xabi Alonso's Bayer Leverkusen had to come from 2-0 down to preserve their unbeaten season in a 2-2 draw against Qarabag.

Updated: March 08, 2024, 4:58 AM