Spartak Moscow 1 Fernando 22’
Liverpool 1 Coutinho 30’
Yet again, wasted chances at the front and headlessness at the back ensure that Liverpool gift their opponents points in a contest they should’ve decided many times over.
Jürgen Klopp put out as close to his true first choice XI as he’s had a chance to this season, with Loris Karius and Trent Alexander-Arnold the only presumed second-stringers. Otherwise, Joël Matip and Dejan Lovren joined Alberto Moreno at the back, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can featured in midfield, and the quadrumvirate of Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah started their first competitive match together. Combined with their opponents’ shoddy defensive record, the line-up had Reds fans licking their lips in anticipation before kick-off.
It was clear the visitors thought they could blow their hosts out of the water as well, because they came out at a ferocious pace, with every pass seemingly looking to be the killer ball and every run aimed directly at goal. The energy was high, but the quality was lacking, all encapsulated six minutes into the contest by Emre Can getting himself booked for a wild lunge following a poor touch.
The Reds held the ball nearly constantly in the rambunctious noise of the Otkrytiye Arena, but it was ten minutes before they registered their first shot, Alexander-Arnold volleying wide after some keepy-up with Salah. Two minutes later, Coutinho found Salah with a through ball, but the Egyptian’s effort was blocked for a corner, and on fifteen minutes, a quick free kick saw the former Basel man race through on goal, this time foiled by Artem Rebrov in the Spartak goal.
On the very next possession, a gorgeous inswinging cross from Mané found Roberto Firmino six yards out, but the Brazilian put his header to close to the goalkeeper. The Reds were warming up and it looked only a matter of time before the Russian walls would be breached.
Predictably, sloppy play in their own half would see Liverpool concede to the first shot on target for the fourth time in five matches. A desperate Emre Can pointlessly chased a lost ball thirty yards to the sideline and played it blindly back towards his own goal, where, after a bit of vintage chaos, Coutinho tripped a Moscow player just outside the Reds box. Fernando showed his class and bent a terrific free kick over the wall and past Karius, giving the hosts an undeserved lead.
The Reds were right back on their job, and two minutes after the goal, a Mané diving header from a beautiful Alexander-Arnold cross was chalked off after the Senegalese attacker was caught offside. The same man effortlessly cut inside his marker soon after, but saw his driven effort well saved by Rebrov.
On the half-hour mark, the visitors equalised. Coutinho played a delightful one-two with Mané, took a touch and blasted the ball over the head of Rebrov and into the back of the net. It looked absolutely effortless, and one wonders why it took so long to conjure up.
A minute later the Reds broke following some successful gegenpressing, but a blocked through ball saw Salah blast the ball over the bar from 20 yards. A gorgeous Henderson cross to the back post snuck past a Spartak defender, and a befuddled Firmino failed to make solid contact from five yards out, the ball harmlessly dribbling into the hands of Rebrov.
One minute from half time, the visitors somehow conspired to mess up a five on two counter attack. Roberto Firmino carried the ball and played it into the path of Henderson, whose low cross sliced past an unmarked and offsides Mané before finding Salah at the back post, only for the Egytion to put his effort wide of the open goal, albeit from a tight angle. It was a wasted opportunity to take the lead at a perfect time, and one the Reds would end up ruing.
The second half began at a slower pace, with Coutinho’s free kick saved at the near post the only noteworthy event of the opening ten minutes. Shenanigans ensued minutes later, as a clash of shins between Salah and Rebrov in the Spartak box saw the match completely halt for eight minutes, culminating in the home side substituting their goalkeeper.
Daniel Sturridge came on for Sadio Mané on seventy minutes, and Georginio Wijnaldum replaced Can on the next stop in play, both introduced into a game that had lost all sense of flow and quality. Alexander-Arnold blasted an effort wide of the near post and Firmino hammered a shot over the bar after picking a defender’s pocket 20 yards out, and time was ticking away from the increasingly exhausted-looking Reds.
Firmino found and offsides Sturridge with a chipped through ball, but the striker smashed his effort wide anyway. A minute later, the Brazilian found the Englishman again, this time with a flicked header, but the volley from a narrow angle bounced off the post and out of play.
The Reds were pushing desperately for the winner, and on the stroke of full-time, Jordan Henderson found Sturridge at the back post with a gorgeous lob, but the 28-year old smashed his volley high over the bar from six yards out. On the fourth of eight injury-time minutes, Alberto Moreno picked out the run of Firmino in the left channel, but the Brazilian’s cutback was behind Salah, and the Egyptian failed to get a shot off.
As the minutes waned away and the Spartak players dropped like flies to the dual threat of cramps and time-wasting, Alexander-Arnold produced yet another stunning cross to pick out Salah six yards out and central, but the Egyptian put his headed effort straight at substitute goalkeeper Alexander Selikhov, securing yet another disappointing draw for the Reds.
Not much to say that hasn’t already been said. Liverpool look perfectly solid at the back until they don’t, and absolutely lethal in offense right up until they somehow fail to convert. Roberto Firmino had a game to forget, missing two massive opportunities, while Sturridge and Salah will also go home knowing they had huge chances to win it for the visitors.
Sevilla did their job at Maribor, which means that the Reds are now two points behind the Spaniards in Group E, ahead of tonight’s opponents on goals scored. It’s three weeks until the next Champions League round, as the Reds travel to Slovenia on October the 17th.
One more game before the next international break, and Klopp will be hoping his team can end this run of matches with a result that’s as dominant as their performance, when they travel north to Tyneside to face former manager Rafa Benítez and Newcastle.