Liverpool vs Spartak Moscow – Wednesday, December 6, 19:45 GMT/20:45 CET – Anfield, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Although Champions League Group E is still up for grabs with Liverpool, Sevilla and Spartak Moscow all capable of winning the group or missing out on the knockout stage altogether, the target for the hosts tonight is simple: avoid defeat, and progression is assured. A point’s advantage over Sevilla – who take on winless Maribor away in Slovenia – means victory would guarantee a first place in the group and a seeding to avoid other group winners in the next round.
Jürgen Klopp is unlikely to sit back and play for the bare minimum though, especially not with the potent forward line at his disposal. Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah – the Premier League’s leading goalscorer with 12 in just 13 starts – have bagged nine goals between them in the five group games so far, while Sadio Mané returned a few weeks ago from an injury that kept him out of the Maribor games.
The problems regarding selection come at the back, where injuries have forced Klopp to be creative in recent games. Last weekend, for example, he played two midfielders – Emre Can and Georginio Wijnaldum – in an unorthodox back three, due to the absence of the injured Joel Matip and Joe Gomez. Even Estonian international Ragnar Klavan wasn’t fit to start. With the Merseyside Derby coming up at the weekend, Liverpool can’t afford for any more of their first-choice players to pick up knocks.
This fixture is tinged with a layer of sadness as much as tension for the Russian champions. The last time they played a competitive fixture at Anfield the legendary Oleg Romantsev was in charge, but by this stage, his mercurial powers were waning as alcoholism gripped his fertile football mind. Despite having guided Spartak to nine domestic titles after the collapse of the Soviet Union, by 2002, he was a shadow of his former self and oversaw a pathetic 5-0 capitulation to an Emile Heskey-inspired Liverpool outfit.
Spartak Moscow have more pressure on them to get a result. Only a win will take them through to the knockout stages, but could with Sevilla failing to win it would guarantee them top spot in the group. The two desperately disappointing draws against Maribor, whom Liverpool thrashed by an aggregate score of 10-0 over their two games, could seriously cost them; victory in one of those would have left them only needing to match Sevilla’s result to be confident of going through.
Ze Luis and Quincy Promes both missed the last-gasp victory at the weekend over Arsenal Tula with minor injuries, but both are confirmed as fit and ready to face Liverpool. Both are critical to Spartak’s gameplan, with Dutchman Promes, a one-time rumoured target of Liverpool, themselves. Similar to Liverpool, at least some attention will be directed further ahead to a massive local derby a few days later as CSKA cross Moscow in a massive clash for both RFPL title chasers.
Liverpool vs Spartak Moscow – Players to Watch
Mohamed Salah #10 – Liverpool
There are few players in world football on such blistering form as the Egyptian forward. It is sometimes easy to forget that he is still only 25 years old, and yet has carried his nation to its first World Cup in 28 years, found life restricted at Chelsea, resurrected his career through two hugely-productive seasons at Roma before arriving on Merseyside. He has already scored more than any Liverpool players has managed since Luis Suárez four years ago. His pace is a serious threat to Spartak, and to have a chance of getting anything from the game will have to shackle Salah somehow.
Ze Luis #9 – Spartak Moscow
The hulking Cape Verdean frontman is such an essential cog in the Spartak machine, and yet his physical and tactical contribution often gets overlooked in favour of skipper Denis Glushakov and Promes. One main reason his Dutch teammate can have such a devastating impact cutting in from wide areas is that Ze Luis occupies a sizeable portion of opposition defences’ attention – five assists in the league attest to his role and importance.
Futbolgrad Network Prediction: Liverpool vs Spartak Moscow: 1-1
Liverpool vs Spartak Moscow – Match Stats
- That famous 5-0 Anfield win was Spartak’s heaviest European loss this millennium.
- Liverpool have scored three goals or more in seven of their last eight games in all competitions.
- They are unbeaten in their last nine Champions League fixtures (W4, D5), but have only kept two clean sheets in that time – both against Maribor this season.
- Spartak’s defeat to Sevilla on matchday four was their only loss in 19 matches in all competitions.
- Spartak have won just three of their last 26 Champions League away matches.
Liverpool vs Spartak Moscow – Possible Lineups
Karius – Can, Lovren, Klavan – Alexander-Arnold, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Robertson – Salah, Firmino, Coutinho
Manager: Jürgen Klopp
Selikhov – Eshchenko, Kutepov, Bocchetti, Dzhikia – Glushakov, Fernando – Melgarejo, Luiz Adriano, Promes – Ze Luis
Manager Massimo Carrera
Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.