Based on the UEFA club coefficients of the sides Liverpool could face if they end up second in their group, there’s a case to be made for trying to see out a dull nil-nil draw at Anfield this evening. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone wanting that, of course.
Winning the game, finishing first, and seeing what comes of the draw for the Round of 16 is the goal—and to try to draw would be to risk losing and dropping down into the Europa League. There will be no talk of draws, then, not for the manager or players.
"Our situation is good,” captain Jordan Henderson said in the match programme for tonight’s Champions League tie. “Our destiny is in our own hands, we’re at home, and we haven’t lost in the competition despite facing really strong teams.
“But we also know if we lose tonight the most likely outcome is we won’t qualify. This gives this match a cup final feel to it and we have to have that mentality. We have to treat this game—players, staff and supporters—as the most important of the season.”
Liverpool have had a bit of a strange group stage run so far, topping the group so far and by most accounts solidly outperforming their opponents in every game but only so far beating minnows Maribor while dropping six points against Sevilla and Spartak.
If they’d held on to the victory against Sevilla rather than imploding on the way to a 3-3 draw, they’d be first in the group no matter what happened tonight. If they’d won the games they should—which is to say all of them—they would be on 15 points.
Now, they have one last chance to make up for those disappointing results and dropped points, to put something of an exclamation mark on their qualifying campaign and see out a match without any doubt of what the result will be. They just need to win.
"In some respects we’ve had this experience quite recently,” Henderson added. “Against Hoffenheim we came to Anfield with an expectation to finish the job. We treated it like an entire season’s work rested on us getting the job done.
"The atmosphere inside Anfield was electric and the players delivered. There was a healthy tension about it. That attitude—in the dressing room, on the pitch and in the stands—is what we’ll all look to replicate against Spartak."