Thursday, December 13, 2018

Liverpool 7-0 Spartak Moscow: Five things we learned as Philippe Coutinho stars

Benjamin Darvill in Editorial, UEFA Champions League 6 Dec 2017

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Both sets of fans would have been flooding into Anfield looking for a strong performance as the final Champions League group game came around. However, Liverpool, from start to finish, were the only side that looked like winning, and they duly hammered Spartak Moscow to secure top spot.

The match opened with a clever lofted ball into Mohamed Salah who was dragged down, resulting in Philippe Coutinho rolling the first goal of the night in from the spot, before Coutinho added a second swiftly afterwards, capping off a superb team goal. Roberto Firmino then scored with the outside of his foot, which rounded off the scoring for the first-half.

The second period started in equally scintillating fashion, with Saido Mane scoring two minutes after the restart with a sublime volley from James Milner’s cross. Coutinho then completed his hat-trick on the 50th minute with a deflected strike, before Mane scored his second with an improvised flick. There was enough time for Mohamed Salah to get on the scoresheet with a goal that displayed his composure and good feet, and it brought an end to a 7-0 rout for Liverpool. The result means the Reds go through to the knock-out stages, and Spartak are resigned to the Europa League.

From the victory for the home side, what five things did we learn?

Liverpool’s fast start stuns Spartak

Jurgen Klopp will have been hoping to see his Liverpool side start quickly, and his decision to utilise Coutinho, Mane, Firmino and Salah paid dividends. Coutinho first scored from the spot after Salah was dragged down in the box, before a flowing move ended in Coutinho poking home his second goal. Roberto Firmino was then able to capitalize on a number of deflections as he utilised the outside of his foot to place the ball away from the stranded goalkeeper.

Jurgen Klopp was at his charismatic best as he celebrated the goals like the fans in the stands did, and he would have been hugely pleased to see that his attacking gamble was paying off as they started in scintillating style. Liverpool have been able to play a number of teams off the park when they are at Anfield, and the Reds were in sublime form, with their forward’s eyes lighting up every time they got the ball.

As good as Liverpool were, Spartak were equally as bad. There was no pressure on any Liverpool player as they were easily able to bypass the visiting defenders, while every one of the goals saw defensive errors punished. Spartak were hoping to make it through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, but on their performance in the first 15 minutes, they did not deserve to as they were 3-0 down before even a third of the game had passed.


Liverpool’s forwards shine yet again

What an evening it was at Anfield. Klopp is renowned for playing an attacking style, but even he would have been surprised to see his side as ruthless as they were. A hat-trick from Coutinho coupled with goals from Salah, Firmino,  and a double from Mane saw the home side to a very comfortable win, as they didn’t even break a sweat, strolling to the three points that they needed.

While few will be mentioning Spartak in the same breath as the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid, they are no pushovers. Coming into the game they needed a win to really have a real chance of going through to the knock-out stages of the Champions League, but they were outplayed by their hungry opponents.

At no point did Spartak’s backline look comfortable with their opponents, and it was credit to the Red’s attack that they made such easy work of the visitors. Their movement was outstanding, their interplay was slick, there was a telepathy between them, and their finishing was superb. There are some superb front lines in world football right now, but on this form, it is difficult to look past Liverpool’s attacking trio and Coutinho who, when in this kind of form, are among the best partnerships in the world.

Liverpool’s back-line are given a rare day off with Spartak toothless

Of all of the criticisms about Liverpool, their inability to consistently stay solid it the back is the most obvious, and most worrying. Too often they have found dealing with the attacking threat of another team very difficult, and people’s eyes only need to be guided back to their 4-1 hammering at the hands of Tottenham to see this. Dejan Lovren was abysmal as he handed Spurs the advantage, with the London side easily cutting through their opponents time and time again. Honestly, Tottenham would have been hugely disappointed not to have scored more goals in the win.

On Wednesday evening though, things were very different. Liverpool’s attack was razor sharp and they cut Spartak open, but it was their midfielders that facilitated this, with the visitors poor on the ball as they all too often conceded possession. This allowed the superb Coutinho to dominate the game from the middle, while Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum easily mopped up whatever came through.

This meant that the defence went largely untested on the night, with Liverpool controlling the match, and Spartak rarely threatening to put their hosts under pressure. Liverpool were able to utilise a similar game-plan when they beat Arsenal 4-0 in the Premier League in August. When this style works, it is superb as it takes all the pressure of the defenders. However, when the forwards come unstuck against better teams, how will Liverpool’s defenders cope then?

Getting Coutinho to stay was Liverpool’s best piece of business in the summer

There was some outrageous money flaunted across Europe by the biggest teams as the value of money was made a mockery of. Neymar was the high profile transfer as he set a new world record for the amount a player has been bought for as he swapped Barcelona for PSG. In all honesty, his price-tag made every other piece of business seem rather small, with the ridiculous amount of money the French side paid dwarfing anything that has come before it.

However, while Liverpool were not ones for huge transfers, they did manage to do a piece of business that was more important than breaking their, or the world’s transfer record. Speculation was rife surrounding the future of Philippe Coutinho as Barcelona circled, looking for a replacement for Neymar. Massive prices were reported, but no deal was forthcoming as Liverpool stood strong. Many questioned their decision to dig their heels in, but those questions are being answered with every performance the Brazilian has put in since.

Against Spartak, he was simply breathtaking as he pulled the strings from midfield and chipped in with a hat-trick. While some will cite that the standard of their opponent was not of the highest order, it should be recognised that Spartak are a side that were battling for a spot in the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Ultimately, while Spartak were poor on the night, Coutinho was on another level to everyone on the pitch as he put in a performance that will have Klopp rubbing his hands together in glee.

Liverpool go through top as Spartak are eliminated

On an evening when Liverpool could have followed Chelsea’s lead by finishing second in the group, they instead managed to join Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham by going through at the top of their group.

In the end, Liverpool did not need to win as a point would have sufficed with Sevilla drawing 1-1 with Maribor. The victory and their subsequent progression at the top of the group was just rewards for a superb evening’s work, but it did mask a campaign in which they have been very inconsistent.

Three wins and three draws in their five games shows their up and down performances, but their 7-0 win was one that saw the entire team purring. However, Klopp will be all too aware of his team’s capitulation against Sevilla in their last game as they let a 3-0 lead slip. going forward, the Reds cannot afford to allow situations like that to pass them by, with Europe’s best teams lying in wait in the next round.

For Spartak, it was a step too far as far as the quality level goes. One win, three draws and two defeats saw them go very close to going through a tough group, but their 7-0 hammering will have left some psychological damage on the side going forward. A Europa League spot beckons for the club, and perhaps that slightly better suits their ability, with Spartak outclassed on the night.

Liverpool: Karius 6 – Gomez 6, Klavan 7, Lovren 6 (Alexander-Arnold 6), Moreno 6 (Milner 7) – Can 7, Wijnaldum 7, Coutinho 9 – Mane 8, Salah 8, Firmino 8 (Sturridge 7).

Unused subs: Mignolet, Henderson, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Solanke.

Spartak Moscow: Selikhov 5 – Eschenko 4, Bocchetti 5, Tacsi 4, Dzhikiya 3 (Pasalic 5) – Zobnin 4, Fernando 5, Glushakov 4, Promes 5 (Samedov 5) – Ze Luis 4 (Melgarejo 5), Luis Adriano 4.

Unused subs: Kutepov, Rebrov, Popov, Rocha Neves.

Referee: Szymon Marciniak


Benjamin Darvill

Ben is an English and creative writing graduate that is now working his way up in the world of sports journalism. Having been writing for the last four years, Ben has written for a number of websites specialising in sport, with football a particular passion. He is a long-suffering England fan and eternal optimist when it comes to the Three Lions.



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