Liverpool left frustrated after dominating in Moscow
Jürgen Klopp’s side fail to convert a host of chances against Spartak
Spartak Moscow 1 Liverpool 1
“Win Or Die” proclaimed the banner that covered one side of Stadion Spartak before kick-off. It was an extreme order to Spartak Moscow, a strange motivational technique and as it transpired they were quite content with a draw at home to Liverpool. It was Jürgen Klopp who left with greater regret.
For the second time in the Champions League group stage Liverpool extracted only a point from a game they controlled, created the clearer opportunities and conceded as a consequence of their own lapses.
Klopp’s team laid siege to the Russian goal in the final stages – having 17 attempts on goal to their opponents’ three – but with the substitute Daniel Sturridge squandering several chances and the stand-in goalkeeper Aleksandr Selikhov foiling Mohamed Salah at point-blank range in stoppage time, it was another exhausting night for Liverpool for modest rewards.
Two points from two games represents a so far inauspicious haul from what, on paper, was a generous draw for the group stage. Liverpool have not won away in the Champions League since defeating Debrecen in 2009 but that unwanted record should have ended in Moscow.
Klopp had said Liverpool’s first appearance in Russia’s capital for 15 years might not be an occasion for “all the artists, but if it fits together we will do it”. It fitted together superbly in a pre-season win over Bayern Munich in August, the last time Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Salah started in unison for Liverpool, and Klopp opted for a team of maximum expression against Russia’s struggling champions. His starting XI was identical to that Audi Cup game at the Allianz Arena, where Liverpool won 3-0, but a Champions League fixture away at an intimidating venue is far removed from the relative calm of pre-season.
Liverpool were swiftly in the ascendancy with Coutinho and Mané prominent down the left. They were also quick to shut down space for Spartak’s forwards whenever the home side broke on the counter-attack, the defensive unit working well despite an early booking for Emre Can for a foul on midfielder Mario Pasalic.
Trent Alexander-Arnold had the game’s first chance after combining with Salah, bringing the ball down on his chest inside the area but volleying wide of Artem Rebrov’s goal. Serdar Tasci, one of Spartak’s three central defenders, made a last-ditch challenge on Salah as he looked to capitalise on Coutinho’s piercing pass and the Egypt international forced Rebrov into a low save from Jordan Henderson’s quickly taken free-kick.
The pressure in the early stages was unrelenting. When the home side failed to clear from Rebrov’s save, Mané whipped in a delightful cross from the left for the unmarked Firmino to head goalwards from close range. The Brazilian’s effort had power and accuracy but the Spartak goalkeeper and captain produced a fine one-handed save to deny Firmino on his 100th appearance for Liverpool.
Liverpool had the Russian defence creaking but, in keeping with too many performances this season, found themselves dominant yet trailing to a needless goal. There was no faulting the work-rate or commitment of Spartak as they looked to ease the pressure on their coach Massimo Carrera after a run of three wins in 11 league games this season. But, without the injured Quincy Promes, they posed no threat to Loris Karius until Can needlessly conceded possession on the half-way line and set off a chain of events that led to Coutinho fouling Aleksandr Samedov 25 yards from the Liverpool goal.
The free-kick was central and Fernando’s execution flew over the Liverpool wall and beyond Karius’s despairing dive to his left. It was a well-struck effort but Klopp’s Champions League goalkeeper could have done better with a shot that did not have to find the top corner to give the hosts the lead. It would be Spartak’s only shot of the first half.
Mané thought he had equalised almost immediately but his diving header was correctly ruled out for offside. He played an instrumental role when Liverpool deservedly levelled, however, taking Coutinho’s pass on the corner of the penalty area and releasing the Brazil international with a perfectly weighted return. Coutinho gave the impressive Rebrov no chance as he lifted the ball over the advancing goalkeeper as he closed in from the angle.
Liverpool missed two excellent chances to lead at the interval. Firmino inadvertently deflected a superb Henderson cross into the goalkeeper’s arms after Ilya Kutepov missed his clearance. The visitors also had a four-v-two breakaway from a Spartak corner in the final minute of the half but Henderson, Mané and Salah made a mess of the counter-attack, much to Rebrov’s relief.
Klopp was involved in heated discussions with the fourth official after Liverpool had two penalty claims rejected by French referee Clément Turpin. Both were for a push into the back of Salah, costing him a chance to convert from close range after Spartak had carelessly conceded possession, and both were dismissed to the obvious annoyance of the Liverpool manager. The first shout appeared stronger than the second, which also saw Salah denied by Rebrov’s bravery in diving at his feet. The goalkeeper, Spartak’s best performer, was carried off minutes later with his right knee strapped up.
Liverpool continued to dictate the tempo and pose the greater threat in the second half without finding a way behind a packed Spartak defence. Sturridge replaced Mané and Georginio Wijnaldum the out-of-sorts Can as Klopp sought a way to test Rebrov’s replacement Selikhov but it was only in the final moments that they did so. Sturridge volleyed wastefully over from Henderson’s delightful cross while Selikhov made his own fine one-handed stop to keep out Salah’s header from an Alexander-Arnold delivery.