Liverpool 7 – Spartak Moscow 0: Match Review & Analysis

What a crucial week this could prove to be for our season. Heading into this match Champions League qualification was in our own hands, with either a draw or a win being enough to take us to the knockout stages for the first time since 2008-2009. Hot on the heels of our biggest European match since the Europa League Final is the Merseyside derby, with a resurgent Everton having all week to get themselves into shape for it under the tutelage of Sam Allardyce. The Blues haven’t won at Anfield since 1995, but I do think some Liverpool fans are being a little bit overly cocky about the impending match up. That cockiness seems to have doubled since we drew them in the FA Cup. They’ll win one at our place eventually, you know.

Still, that’s a problem for this weekend. Tonight we simply needed to get a result against the Russians in order to knock them out and allow us to progress. The manager went about as strong as possible with his team selection, perhaps hoping to get the game won early doors in order to rest players ahead of the weekend. After our capitulation in Spain, however, that could have turned out to be a risky strategy. Sevilla had the crowd behind them that night, to say nothing of their manager revealing his health problems to them at half-time to help them come back from 3-0 down and preserve their record of not losing at home for a year. The crowd was on our side this time, though, so would it be enough to see us over the line?

Klopp Went Strong And It Paid Off

It must have been difficult for Jürgen Klopp to decide what to do with his team tonight. Though the German obviously has a huge amount of faith in his squad, he would have been forgiven if he’d decided to mix things up a little bit and brought the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge or even Marko Grujic into the side to give Mo Salah, Philippe Coutinho or Sadio Mané a rest before the Merseyside Derby. Instead he went with the strongest starting eleven he possibly could, perhaps with the sole exception of resting Jordan Henderson and brining in Emre Can. It was a decision that paid off and then some, with the Reds essentially ending the game as a contest after just twenty minutes. More importantly, he gave the front four a chance to click that they haven’t actually had all that often yet this season.

Boy oh boy did the lads up front click. Coutinho may well have had his head turned by Barcelona in the summer and it’s always difficult to persuade Latin American players to say no to the Spanish giants, but the Brazilian must be looking at the players he’s got buzzing around him at the moment and licking his lips. Opposition defences, meanwhile, must be wondering who the hell they’re supposed to be marking. If you take care of the Little Magician then his countryman Roberto Firmino is there. Mark him out of the game and you’re giving space to Salah. Stop the Egyptian from playing and Sadio Mané pops up. It’s a quartet that is the stuff of nightmares for managers in the opposite dugout to Klopp. Tonight they showed just how electric they can be when they’re all on the same page.

This Is Exactly What We Needed

I know I keep mentioning the derby, but it’s impossible not to given the way it’s looming up large at the weekend. Now we’ve got tonight out of the way it’s what everyone will be talking about for the next few days, after all. With that in mind, this was exactly the game we needed to see from Liverpool. The game was done and dusted before the whistle even went towards the referee’s lips for the half-time interval, meaning that the players could take their foot off the gas and treat it like a training exercise. If that’s what they do in training then it’s little wonder that the manager is so confident in the ability of the team that he’s putting together. The fact that we still scored four at half-tempo won’t have done anything to harm the confidence of the lads.

Things could have gone much worse. Spartak showed up hoping to frustrate us, with a generous refereeing decision early doors putting paid to that idea. Emre Can picked up a soft yellow card and might have got another one on a night when things were a bit tighter. Moscow essentially threw in the towel after half an hour, showing no desire to press and no willingness to try and shut us down. They’ve got a derby of their own at the weekend against CSKA, so little wonder that they couldn’t even be bothered to chuck a couple of fouls our way out of embarrassment at the scoreline. If Jürgen Klopp could have written down how he’d have wanted tonight to go then I’m fairly certain he couldn’t have scripted it any better.

Who’ll Want To Face Us Next?

Scoring seven goals isn’t something that teams do very often. The fact that we’ve done it twice in the Champions League group stage is reason enough to get excited. We could get any of Bayern Munich, FC Basel, FC Porto, Juventus, Real Madrid or Shakhtar Donetsk and I’m not sure even Bayern or Real will be all that excited about the possibility of going up against us. That we’ve finished top of the group also means that the second leg will be at Anfield and that’s a proposition that few teams will be happy about. We scored twenty-three goals in the group stage, a record number by an English team in the Champions League. The only team that have scored more than us is Paris Saint-Germain who did that this year too.

There’s no getting away from the fact that we’ve had a couple of dodgy moments during the campaign. Drawing with Sevilla twice when we really should have put both games to bed is slightly alarming, but it’s easy to forget that most of these players haven’t played in the Champions League under this manager and will be learning from their mistakes as they go. We also need to remember that Klopp took his Borussia Dortmund team to the final of the competition back in 2013. He’ll have learnt plenty from that experience too, of course. Which side heading into the knockout stages is definitively better than us when we’re in full flow? Obviously we’d much rather face Basel or Porto than Real or Bayern, but I’m not sure we should be scared of anyone.

Milner Is Still Best At Left-Back

I’ve been critical of James Milner’s last couple of appearances for Liverpool for one simple reason: I don’t think he should play in midfield for us. We’re at our best when we’re quick in the interchange, especially when moving things through the middle. I find it extremely bizarre that some Liverpool fans are so desperate to criticise Jordan Henderson that they say that he slows down our play, yet the same people also think that Milner’s a better option in the middle of the park. I think he’s proven in two appearances against Tottenham and Chelsea when he’s played there that he’s far too slow to do it regularly. At left-back, on the other hand, it was a different proposition entirely.

I think Alberto Moreno has had a genuinely good season for us in the left-back slot. He’s had one poor game all season and that came against his former club just three days after the birth of his son. If you’re desperate to slag him off, as some of our fans have been, and you have to wait until mid-November before you can stick the boot in then you might have to accept that your narrative is weak around the edges. It was disappointing to see him limp off midway through the second-half and I hope it’s not too serious. If it is, though, then James Milner should be the player that comes in to replace him. I don’t think Robertson’s done anything wrong when he’s come in, but Milner’s got more assists in the Champions League than anyone else at this point.

Karius Is Settling In Well

So many people were happy to write Loris Karius off after just a handful of games in his first season at the club after having broken his hand early on. I heard lots of people I respect saying things like ‘he’s not a goalkeeper’ and ‘he’s made of smoke’, yet he’s performed well in his appearances in the group stage. He’s conceded goals, but few if any of them have been directly his fault. He was responsible for keeping us in the tie out in Spain a fortnight ago, though, making a couple of brilliant saves and coming out quickly to shut down the angles at one point.

Everyone who’s read one of these blogs will know I’m no fan of Simon Mignolet, with the Belgian goalkeeper having reached the end of the road at Liverpool in my opinion. I think it’s time that the manager moved his compatriot front and centre and I think his performances in Europe have proven that he’s now settled to life in England. This team is going to concede goals, such is the nature of the way we play. What we need in the goalkeeper’s slot is someone who can help put this exciting team on the front foot as quickly as possible. In terms of distribution alone Karius is head and shoulders about our current number one. Even if you don’t agree, it’s now difficult to argue that the manager is getting his decision to rotate the goalies between Europe and domestic competition wrong.

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