In their last game of the 2017/18 Champions League group stage, Liverpool welcomed Spartak Moscow.
The Russian team needed to win this game to progress, while any other result meant staying in third and continuing their campaign in the Europa League. Liverpool on the other hand needed a point to secure passage to the last 16, but a win would see them top the group.
Apart from Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana, Joel Matip was also unavailable due to injury. Both Jordan Henderson and James Milner started the game on the bench. Philippe Coutinho was therefore entrusted with the captain’s armband.
Here's tonight's team against Spartak Moscow.
Coutinho wears the captain's armband. pic.twitter.com/pu5tfTO3R8
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 6, 2017
— FC Spartak Moscow (@fcsm_official) December 6, 2017
From the first to the last whistle, this performance by Liverpool was, for lack of a better word, perfect. The Reds did everything right. They tormented their visitors, more and more as minutes went by.
After only three minutes, Coutinho aimed a cross from deep left towards Salah in the box. Dzhikiya was marking him and he used his arms to bring him down. Penalty. The Spartak defender picked up a yellow card for it.
The captain on the day, Coutinho took the ball and placed it into the ‘keeper’s left bottom corner.
Two minutes later Emre Can was harshly booked for stopping a counterattack, especially given how the referee forgave Spartak players quite a lot in later stages of the clash.
However, by minute 15 it was clear there was no way back for them.
Mane’s pass forward found Salah who ran straight towards the goal, and then spotted the diagonal run of Firmino to the right and employed him. Firmino displayed equally good vision with a low cut-back through the box, and Coutinho caught a few Spartak defenders, as well as the goalkeeper, on the wrong foot with a sublimely cool finish.
After assisting Coutinho with his second on the night, it took Firmino only four minutes to get on the score-sheet himself.
Just as the Russian team prepared to go forward, Mane stole the ball and he was off, running to the right. His cross was met by a hand-ball interception from Tasci, and before the referee could make a decision Firmino simply slammed it in.
It must have been painful to watch for the traveling Spartak fans, but their support for their team never relented.
On the pitch, Liverpool were running the show with more confidence than they had displayed at any point of any game this season. They took the foot off the pedal a bit for the rest of the half, but there was nothing the visitors could do to hurt them.
The only down-point of the entire evening came just before half-time. After some dedicated defending, Alberto Moreno stayed down injured, and even though he tried to shake it off and continue, he had to come off. James Milner, who played that part so well last season, came on.
In order to avoid another Sevilla second half, the Reds came out “guns blazing” after the break. Two minutes into the second half, and Milner’s superb cross from the left found Mane completely unmarked around 10 yards from the goal. And if the cross was superb, Mane’s perfectly controlled scissor-kick volley was even better.
Another two minutes later, Klavan started an attack from the back, finding Coutinho in the middle. Coutinho combined with Milner down the left flank, left a few opponents stunned by his dribbling and handed it to Firmino who immediately returned it to Milner – this time in the left-wing position. Coutinho had continued his run towards the box and just as he was entering it, Milner cut it back for him. He moved the ball a step forward and took a shot that got deflected – into the net.
A minute later Ze Luis was replaced by Lorenzo Meglarejo.
With an hour gone, Dzhikiya made way for Mario Pasalic for Spartak, and Lovren left the pitch to make way for Trent Alexander-Arnold. Gomez moved to centre-back while Alexander-Arnold took up his place on the right defensive flank.
In the 62 minute, Fernando picked up a booking for a foul on Milner.
Ten minutes later Firmino went off and was replaced by Daniel Sturridge.
With 15 minutes to go, Can passed to Salah from the centre-circle, the Egyptian sent it to the right where Sturridge was making his run, Sturridge squared it along the six-yard line for Mane and it went slightly behind him, but the brilliance of Mane could not be denied. He stuck his leg awkwardly backwards and pulled the ball into the net.
Promes then left the pitch. Aleksandr Samedov came on.
In the 85th minute, another pass from the middle by Can, this time a long one, went to the left towards Milner. Milner headed it back across the box, it missed Sturridge but landed perfectly for Salah. One dummy swing of his left foot and two defenders were sprawled on the grass, allowing him to slam it into the top corner with his right.
It was one of those days when Klopp’s men are simply unplayable. To list all the good pieces of play would make an incredibly long report.
Quincy Promes, who was at one time linked with Liverpool, was perhaps the only Spartak player who showed a bit of intent, but to no avail. They had a few corners, Karius made a few comfortable saves, but that was it when the visitors were concerned. There was no stopping the Reds this evening.
Liverpool are top of their group and head into the knockout stages of the Champions League. We will soon find out who their next opponent will be. Meanwhile, it’s time to focus on the domestic competitions, the Premier League and the FA Cup, and the team that Klopp and the lads will face next in both of those is none other than Everton.
The injury of Alberto Moreno will hopefully turn out not too serious, and we’ll soon see him bombing up and down that flank. Meanwhile, the time could be for Andy Robertson to present his case.
We walk on.