Europa League wrap: Liverpool stroll past Sparta, Roma thrash hapless Brighton

Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring a goal during their Europa League match against Sparta Prague. Picture: Michael Cizek / AFP

Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez celebrates after scoring a goal during their Europa League match against Sparta Prague. Picture: Michael Cizek / AFP

Published Mar 8, 2024


Liverpool surged towards the Europa League quarter-finals with a 5-1 win at Sparta Prague on Thursday, as Roma thrashed Brighton 4-0 in the Italian capital.

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.

Liverpool remain on course to send Jurgen Klopp off with a quadruple of trophies as the Reds were not distracted by Sunday's mammoth Premier League showdown against Manchester City.

Klopp named a strong side and got what he wanted by killing off the tie in the first leg, even if there was a price to pay in further injury problems as centre-back Ibrahima Konate limped off.

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 makeshift Liverpool defence.

But the difference in quality between the sides showed in the final third.

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

"He has the most important attitude a striker needs to have in these chances," Klopp said of Nunez.

"He's just a constant threat and he gives us some spaces and areas and options."

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.

Mohamed 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.

Ruthless Roma

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

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

"I'm not doing anything out of the ordinary," said De Rossi. "I'm very happy but they're really good players. They're winning matches that they should be winning."

Paulo Dybala was perfectly picked out by Leandro Paredes to open the scoring before Romelu Lukaku pounced on an error by Brighton captain Lewis Dunk to double Roma's lead before the break.

Gianluca Mancini and Bryan Cristante struck in the second half to round off a miserable trip for the visitors.

Two Brighton fans were stabbed in a robbery the night before the game.

Leverkusen are well on course to win their first-ever Bundesliga title but have work to do to reach the Europa League quarter-finals.

Yassine Benzia and a brilliant piece of skill from Juninho had Azeri champions Qarabag in dreamland just before the break.

Alonso had rested a number of his key players and the Germans improved with a series of changes after the break.

Two of the Spaniards substitutes Florian Wirtz and Patrik Schick scored in the final 20 minutes to preserve Leverkusen's unbeaten record in 35 games in all competitions this season.

Milan on track

Milan were given a helping hand at the San Siro by an early red card for Slavia defender Malick Diouf.

Olivier Giroud, Tijjani Reijnders, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Pulisic were on target for the Italian giants.

But David Doudera's stunning volley and Ivan Schranz's strike gave Slavia hope.

Benfica twice came from behind but Rangers have the upper hand going into the second leg at Ibrox after a 2-2 draw in Lisbon.

However, West Ham have work to do after losing 1-0 to Freiburg.

The Hammers had beaten the Germans twice in the group stages but Michael Gregoritsch scored the only goal nine minutes from time to give Freiburg a slender first leg lead.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice in Marseille's 4-0 humiliation of 10-man Villarreal.

Jordan Veretout and Yerson Mosquera's own goal had already put the French side in front before Aubameyang's double either side of half-time took his tally for the season to 21, nine of which have come in the Europa League.