Liverpool aiming to seal last 16 place in fitting style
Victory over Spartak Moscow will secure top spot
Sadio Mané: claims Liverpool are capable of “beating any team in the world”. Photograh: Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Jürgen Klopp summed up Liverpool’s sense of missed opportunity at the Otkritie Arena in September.
“Moscow had injury problems for sure and Quincy Promes will be back for them at Anfield, ” he said ruefully after a 1-1 draw. The Russian champions may pose a greater threat in tonight’s return but will know the same is undoubtedly true of Liverpool.
A point at Spartak Moscow’s raucous home – where Sevilla fell to a 5-1 defeat the following month – was not a bad return for Liverpool. It was, however, a poor reflection of their dominance over Massimo Carrera’s side and in keeping with the early-season pattern of wasted chances and punished mistakes.
The pattern has now been broken, as Brighton & Hove Albion were the latest opponent to discover on Saturday, and only Paris Saint-Germain had scored more than Liverpool’s 16 goals in the Champions League group stage going into the final set of fixtures. Unless Spartak become the first away team to win at Anfield this season, it will be the Russian club who have cause to rue a lost opportunity.
“They have three very important offensive players back in Promes, Zé Luís and [Denis] Glushakov,” said Klopp yesterday, returning to the theme of his post-match analysis in Moscow. “Glushakov is an experienced runner from midfield, always running in behind.
“Promes is like Sadio [Mané]. He can shoot very quick and is a proper striker. That makes it different of course. But we are different. We are in another moment. We need to have confidence and use our stadium.
“I don’t know if I can order it but if I could order it then this would be good moment for Anfield to be at its best. That is what I am looking for. It is special. We played there and drew and we were the better side, we had more chances, and now they bring back three important players.
“That is a fantastic side in a good moment. If someone has decided we are already through then Moscow may think of their impressive win versus Sevilla. I see this as an opportunity.”
Mané, an unused substitute at Brighton, claims Liverpool are capable of “beating any team in the world” and will be a side to avoid should they reach the draw for the last 16 for the first time since 2008-09.
After the experience of conceding three second-half goals in Sevilla, however, and squandering the chance to win the group with a game to spare, the Senegal international admits there can be no loss of focus against Spartak.
“This is one of the biggest games in the season for us,” the Liverpool forward said. “It is the dream of every player in the world to play in the Champions League and very important for us. The fans deserve it, the club also. Liverpool is a big and great club and we want to play a big part in the Champions League. We want to go as far as we can. We going to try to do our best and cause as many problems as we can for the defenders.”
For Klopp, there is no point disguising the magnitude of a match he describes as a “final” and an “all or nothing” occasion. His team have got this far by delivering in similar circumstances against Hoffenheim in the play-off and Middlesbrough on the final day of last season, after all.
“There is pressure and we cannot ignore it, we are going for something big,” the Liverpool manager added.
“We had it against Middlesbrough and Hoffenheim and we did it quite well so far and have to do it again. But Spartak is a good side. I cannot ignore that. They have their own targets. They rested three or four players in the last game and still won. They have one more game and then a three-month break. They have their targets and we have ours.”
Liverpool know victory would secure a place in the knockout stage as group winners and a draw will also suffice for qualification, although Klopp is adamant his team cannot and will not play for a point.
The equation is more straightforward for Spartak: win at Anfield or enter the Europa League. Carrera’s team may be more committed to attack as a consequence, and leave more space at the back for Liverpool to exploit, but Klopp suspects the Russian side will not adopt that approach from the first whistle.
He explained: “If I knew 100 per cent how they will start the game I will say yes, it does suit us. They must attack and it can cause us problems if we do not defend well. We can have counterattacks and everyone is saying we are brilliant at counterattacks. We scored some nice goals, that is true, but we have to do our job.
“We are a possession team. We will have the ball and must have an idea for that and perfect protection as the game develops. Do we go 1-0 up and they go like crazy, or 1-0 down and then what does that mean? We need to be ready for a 95-minute game and fight.”