Liverpool 7 Coutinho 5’ (pen), 15’, 50’, Firmino 19’, Mané 47’, 75’, Salah 85’
Spartak Moscow 0
In a outstanding performance, Liverpool demolish and humiliate their Russian opponents, securing their advancement to the round of sixteen for the first time since the 2008/09 season.
When the teamsheets were released prior to kickoff, most fans knew to expect a shootout, as both sides put out their most offensively potent lineups. The Reds lined up in a crooked 4-4-2 similar to the one that put West Ham to the sword a month ago, and got off to the best possible start. A lofted Philippe Coutinho ball into the box sailed past Mohamed Salah, who was impeded by Georgiy Dzhikiya and went down. Captain for the day — and Liverpool’s fourth penalty taker of the season — stepped up and calmly sent his team into the lead.
The hosts poured forward at every opportunity, taking advantage of Spartak’s attacking formation and sloppiness on the ball. A gorgeous, flowing move ended in Roberto Firmino’s cutback being intercepted at the last moment, before Sadio Mané smacked the ball into the side netting from a narrow angle when a cross would’ve been the better option.
Fifteen minutes in, after both sides had shots from range collected by their respective goalkeepers, the Reds doubled their lead, and it involved each of their four leads. Mané snatched a loose ball and laid it off for Salah, who found Firmino down the right channel, who cut it back to the far post for Coutinho to easily slot home. It looked deceptively simple, but incisive runs and precise passing was at the heart of it.
Minutes later, Mané picked another Spartak pocket and drove at goal. His attempted cross to Salah deflected off a defender, but the ball fell kindly for Firmino, who curled it home with the outside of his boot on the bounce.
The half continued in the same manner, with the Reds looking dangerous every time they procured the ball, and both Salah and Mané had chances to get on the scoresheet, putting their shots over the bar or straight at the goalkeeper when presented the opportunity.
Shortly before the whistle, Spartak had their only properly dangerous moment of the half, as they pushed men into the Liverpool box, but both efforts on target were blocked by determined defending. Alberto Moreno limped off with an ankle injury for his efforts and was replaced by James Milner.
If the first half began explosively, then the start of the second was downright volcanic. Milner was released down the left and swung a cross towards the far post with his off leg. All three Spartak defenders were crowded around 17-goal man Mohamed Salah, allowing Mané all the time in the world to absolute belt a volley into the top corner from 10 yards. Any hopes the visitors had of emulating Sevilla and making a three-goal comeback were instantly snuffed out, but the Reds weren’t done.
Only minutes later, Coutinho became only the second player to score a hat-trick under Jürgen Klopp, driving into the box after some filthy skill and a pair of one-twos, then striking a deflected shot into the near bottom corner. With qualification secured, Dejan Lovren was replaced by Trent Alexander-Arnold not long after, and the match took on a slightly more pedestrian pace, with Liverpool content to ping the ball around while looking for a clear opportunity, and their visitors unable to maintain possession when winning it.
On the hour mark, Salah’s excellent turn and shot was denied by a fingertip save from Alexander Selikhov, before Daniel Sturridge replaced Firmino. Fifteen minutes from time, Quincy Promes nearly ruined Loris Karius’ clean sheet with a swerving effort from 18 yards, before Liverpool continued the beatdown. Mané again won the ball off a Spartak midfielder and released Salah, who played Sturridge in down the flank. The striker’s cutback wasn’t perfect, but Mané, who had started the move, did enough to reach back and tuck it home from six yards.
Sturridge should’ve won a penalty ten minutes from time when he was brought down in the box by the goalkeeper, but the referee abstained, simply because 6-0. That same man somehow managed to not score a minute later, as he flicked an Alexander-Arnold cross well over the bar from about four yards.
The icing on the clobbering cake arrived three minutes before Szymon Marciniak mercifully blew his whistle without adding any injury time. A lofted ball into the box found Milner’s head, and one bounce later the ball arrived at Salah’s feet. Displaying the poise of a man who scores every 99 minutes, he calmly sent his marker flying with a feinted shot, before burying the ball into the top corner with his off leg. Game, set, thumping.
Liverpool win 7-0 home and away for the first time since 1892, and perform as well as they ever have under Klopp at the most crucial of times. The front four is beyond electric at the moment, having managed an astounding 46 goals in all competitions — with half a season to go — and averaging a combined total of 2.86 goals per 90 minutes.
The newfound tactical flexibility that has seen Klopp put out his side in an assortment of formation dependent on opposition and available talent — rather than shoehorning whoever into the same 4-3-3 — is also extremely encouraging, and sees the Reds winning seven of their last nine, having scored 32 goals and managing five clean sheets in the process.
Even this curmudgeonly writer can’t bother moaning on a night like this, and can only look forward with enthusiastic anticipation for the Merseyside derby on Sunday.