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Darwin Nunez sends Man City strong message as Liverpool unleash new partnership

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In-form Darwin Nunez scored twice as Liverpool won 5-1 at Sparta Prague in their Europa League round of 16 first leg.

Happy 50th for Darwin Nunez. Happy 1,000th for Jurgen Klopp. And a very happy outcome – at least in terms of the result – from what initially threatened to become a significant banana skin in Liverpool’s ongoing attempt to claim an unprecedented trophy quadruple.

A 5-1 victory during a frankly bizarre clash at Sparta Prague ensured Klopp’s side took a considerable step towards a place in the last eight of the Europa League.

And, as at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, key to success was the contribution of Darwin Nunez. But while there wasn’t anything quite as dramatic as that injury-time winner, it wasn’t any less memorable from the Uruguayan.

Reaching a half-century of starts for the Reds, Nunez had served notice of his intent in the opening moments when dancing around Sparta goalkeeper Peter Vindahl only to scuff his eventual shot.

There was no such mistake on 25 minutes, the forward accepting a pass from Harvey Elliott and cutting in off the left flank before unleashing a powerful shot over Vindahl. It was a thousandth goal for the Reds during the Klopp era and helped settle the visitors after Sparta had responded well to going behind to Alexis Mac Allister’s early penalty.

The Argentine had spoken before the game of his close friendship with Nunez and how that was now being translated on the pitch. Such a relationship was evident in first-half injury time, although it was the forward who did most of the hard work when, after allowing Mac Allister’s searching pass to bounce several times, he smashed a finish into the far corner.

Nunez of last season might easily have snatched at that effort. But it demonstrated the confidence coursing through his veins, content in the knowledge he has become Liverpool’s main attacking threat at present and moving on to 16 goals for the campaign – surpassing his tally for the whole of last season.

The forward, having missed three games with a muscle problem before his cameo at Forest, was replaced shortly after the interval as Klopp looked to protect his personnel as well as the early advantage that was ultimately extended by later goals from Luis Diaz and Dominik Szoboszlai.

Last term, Nunez largely became a bystander during the closing months of the season. This time, though, he will be hugely influential in whether Liverpool can secure a glorious farewell for Klopp, and is an almost certain starter for Sunday’s blockbusting Premier League showdown against Manchester City at Anfield.

If City didn’t know it already, they do now. Nunez has become a man on a mission.

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