Salah breaks another record as Liverpool gratefully feast on silly Sparta Prague’s generous gifts

Dave Tickner
Mo Salah celebrates a Europa League goal for Liverpool against Sparta Prague
Mo Salah celebrates his goal against Sparta Prague

We should probably be more serious about Sparta Prague’s effort against Liverpool in this tie.

A bit more Joe Cole about it. He spent the half-time break being absolutely apoplectic about the admittedly cartoonish defending the Czech side had served up in contriving to go 4-0 down inside 14 minutes on the night at Anfield and 9-1 on aggregate.

‘There’s nine full internationals in that team,’ he thundered. ‘It’s not good enough.’ He was right to do it, we guess. But Joe, have you stopped to consider for a moment that it is also very funny?

In the first leg, we were genuinely quite impressed with Sparta. They got pumped 5-1 at home and, sure, that’s sub-optimal. But they did play a pretty full part in making the game as entertaining as it was. Had their composure in front of goal matched Liverpool’s it would probably have been 5-3 or something like that.

It was excellent fun, is what we’re saying, and while that was partly due to slapstick defending from the Sparta lads there was a fair bit of good stuff from them going the other way. It was a plan that would almost certainly end in failure, but it was at least glorious failure.

At Anfield, they retained all the ‘defending like you’ve never played football before but have had the concept explained to you by a particularly confused two-year-old’ elements, but abandoned the rest of it.

They were very, very sh*t and there’s really no point pretending that isn’t very, very funny. Of course they were always likely to lose against Liverpool, but there are ways. Even when going down 5-1 in the first leg, they’d found a less mortifying way than this.

There were several moments one could isolate to Sparta Prague’s effort up. You might point to any one of the several hundred defensive catastrophes, but we would opt for one of their rare forward forays that ended with right wing-back Angelo Preciado attempting a 30-yard overhead kick while trailing 11-2 on aggregate.

It bounced harmlessly wide, but a timely reminder for us all that you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.

As for Liverpool, difficult really to know what to make of their performance against such silly opposition. They were probably quite good? They were certainly as good as they needed to be, and probably a bit more besides. Because they didn’t really need to be very good at all here.

There was brilliance in the way they so thoroughly capitalised on the early gifts Sparta so generously offered. There were further lovely moments for assorted members of their increasingly prominent junior section, most notably a goal for Bobby Clark in all that early daftness.

There was also a record-breaking goal for Mo Salah, which is very often the case. This time his 20th goal of a disrupted season makes it seven consecutive seasons that he’s reached that mark. More significantly, he got 90 pretty gentle and untroubled minutes in his legs ahead of what is likely to be a less straightforward weekend against Manchester United and then a fraught run-in.

This was not a night for drawing significant conclusions. If the story of this Liverpool season is going to end the way we think it might, this will be little more than a footnote.

Conclusions may have been in short supply, but questions were not.

What, for instance, is the earliest goal for which a player can be said to have ‘got in on the act’? Cody Gakpo’s 14th-minute fourth goal here is surely a contender.

Is three half-time changes enough to constitute a ‘raft of substitutions’? Is Jurgen Klopp the first manager to get booked while leading 6-1 after 65 minutes?

Just how inevitable now is it that they will be paired with Bayer Leverkusen in an El Narrativo quarter-final after Xabi Alonso’s side completed a nonsensical comeback from 2-0 down in both legs to eventually prevail 5-4 on aggregate against Qarabag thanks to a 97th-minute winner?

And above all, why didn’t we write about that game instead of this one? Just as silly, but far more exciting.

The lack of excitement is not Liverpool’s fault, of course, and they were responsible for almost none of the silliness either. It’s customary in these situations to note that tougher tests await, but perhaps more accurate in this specific one to note that they might never again in fact face an easier test than this one.

But with three trophies still up for grabs and so many games still to play, Liverpool will take their easy games wherever they find them. It’s all still very much on.

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