Situated on the broadcasting gantry within Anfield’s main stand, Oliver Miller offers his view on Liverpool’s Champions League match against Spartak Moscow.
Liverpool thrash Spartak to reach the Champions League knockout round in style
Christmas decorations adorned the Anfield façade – the first sign that the football-packed festive period has arrived – and Spartak Moscow wasted no time in offering Liverpool their gifts. The golden rule when playing a game that you have to win is to not give away an unnecessary early penalty, but that is exactly what Spartak did in the 3rd minute. A Philippe Coutinho ball from the left was travelling over the head of Mohamed Salah but Georgi Dzhikiya still had the urge to bring him down. Coutinho – who led his club in more ways than one on the night – finished with aplomb to score the fastest-ever goal in a Champions League game at Anfield. It was an avoidable situation that made Spartak’s task near on impossible.
From then on the crowd was eased as it quickly became apparent that the night’s work would be easy. Klopp had reunited the attacking quartet, after several games of rotation, although he later described the formation as a more defensive-minded 4-4-1-1 with Mane and Coutinho wide midfielders and Salah behind Firmino. They linked up superbly a matter of minutes later – Mane slid the ball through to Salah who switched it out to Firmino, the striker had time and space and rolled it across the area for Coutinho to side-foot back across goal and into the net.
Then they struck again – and again Spartak were culpable as they lost possession on half-way with Mane sprinting into their area and crossing towards Salah. The ball was intercepted by Serder Tasci – it may well have been another penalty as it struck the defender’s arm – but it rebounded to Firmino who curled it first-time inside the far post with the outside of his right boot.
The Anfield crowd were in full European celebratory mood and soon enough the quartet combined again with Coutinho playing an ‘around-the-corner’ pass to Firmino who ferried it on for Salah who flicked it out wide to allow Mane a clear run on goal. It was a glorious set-up only for Mane to blast over.
One setback for Liverpool on the night was the injury that Alberto Moreno picked-up, forcing him off just before half-time. However, such was Liverpool’s dominance that his replacement, James Milner, popped up as a left-winger, not a left-back, involving himself in three of the four second-half goals. Soon after the re-start they struck with Coutinho pushing the ball out wide to Milner who crossed for Mane to scissor a glorious, acrobatic right-footed volley high into the net. A stunning finish that rivalled Liverpool’s second for goal of the evening.
Anfield erupted for that one and then, also for Coutinho as he completed his hat-trick – collecting a short pass from Milner and driving his shot goalwards with it ricocheting heavily off defender Salvatore Bocchetti and beyond the wrong-footed Selikhov. It was Liverpool’s first Champions League hat-trick for ten years.
Mane claimed his second with Firminio’s replacement Daniel Sturridge pulling out wide right, from Salah’s pass, and unselfishly crossing low for Mane to stretch, as he stumbled, and side-footed home. Finally, it was Salah who did score – and how odd it would have been had he not! Milner headed the ball back infield towards Sturridge, who smartly jumped over it. It ran to Salah who checked and fired high into the goal to complete the rout, the second time they have scored seven in Europe this season. It was some show of power.
Jurgen Klopp had described this showdown as “all or nothing” and so his team gave their all and left the embarrassed Russians with nothing. Coutinho will receive a lot of the plaudits for orchestrating Liverpool’s phenomenal performance, and rightly so. But the entire attacking quartet and midfield deserve credit for their precise and efficient performance. The Christmas decorations will be long gone when Champions League football returns to Anfield in March, but Liverpool – along with the Premier League’s other four representatives – will be ready and raring to go.