Venue: Otkrytiye Arena, Moscow
Tonight, Spartak and Liverpool met for the first time since 2002. After what can probably be described as two disappointing draws for both teams in round one of the group fixtures, each of them was looking to get back on track with three points from this fixture. Sevilla, at home to Maribor in the other fixture, would surely be picking up three points and it was important to keep pace with the Spanish outfit, even at this early stage.
Spartak have endured a difficult start to this season as they look to defend their first Russian Premier League title win for 16 years. They are ninth in the table after eleven games and boss, Massimo Carrera is coming under increasing pressure. Whatever about tonight’s fixture, it will be interesting to see if Carrera will still be in the hot-seat when Spartak visit Anfield in December.
Spartak drew 2-2 at home to bottom club, Anzi Makhachkala, on Saturday. Liverpool, despite continuous defensive issues, registered their first victory since August when they won 3-2 at Leicester City on the same day.
Spartak Moscow lineup (5-4-1) – Rebrov(c); Eshchenko, Tasci, Kutepov, Bocchetti, Dzhikiya; Samedov, Fernando, Pasalic, Popov; Adriano
Subs: Selikhov, Petkovic, Bakaev, Samsonov, Melgarejo, Davydov, Pedro, Rocha
Liverpool lineup (4-1-2-3) – Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Lovren, Moreno; Henderson(c), Can, Coutinho; Salah, Firmino, Mané
Subs: Mignolet, Klavan, Flanagan, Milner, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge
The pitch in Moscow looked to be in marvellous condition tonight and the Spartak Ultras were really making themselves heard. They successfully turned the Otkrytiye Arena into a cauldron of noise.
It was nice to see Coutinho doing some tracking back from as early as the 4th minute. His “reintegration” into the first-team seems to be continuing on a successful path.
Coutinho’s fellow midfielder, Emre Can, received a yellow card in only the 7th minute. It was a sloppy tackle on Bocchetti, lacking discipline and ensuring the German international would have to take extra care for nearly a full game.
Liverpool had the earliest chances on goal. Alexander-Arnold had a neat “air” one-two with Salah on the right. The young full-back took it down on his chest but was stretching for his right-footed shot which went wide of Rebrov’s goal.
In the 17th minute, Liverpool had their first clear opportunities. Firstly, Henderson played a smart, quick free-kick into the path of Salah who got a shot on goal from a tight angle on the left. Rebrov saved it low. The ball stayed in play and Mané swung in a cross from the left. Firmino was unmarked and got directed a strong header goalwards but Rebrov was equal to it. Salah had another shot from the rebound and again Rebrov prevented the goal.
Six minutes later and it was like Groundhog Day for the Reds. After dominating the game and clearly being the stronger of the two teams, the Reds went behind.
Emre Can initially lost the ball in the middle after taking too long in possession. Spartak attacked and won a free-kick from a Coutinho challenge just outside the box. Fernando, another Brazilian, put the free-kick over the wall and past the poorly positioned Loris Karius. Fernando’s shot, although of a decent standard, was nowhere near the corner of the goal and questions have to be asked of how Karius couldn’t keep it out. 1-0 to Spartak.
Liverpool had the ball in the net two minutes later but Mané’s header from Alexander-Arnold’s cross was from an offside position. The goal was rightly disallowed.
Mané had a shot saved shortly afterwards. Liverpool were responding well to going behind.
After 31 minutes, Coutinho received the ball outside the Spartak box, on the left-hand side. He played an excellent one-two with Sadio Mané and Coutinho received the return in the box. He finished brilliantly, up and over the body of the diving Rebrov. 1-1!
In the 38th minute, Firmino could have and probably should have put Liverpool in front. Henderson swung in one of his trademark, first time curling crosses which almost always find a teammate at the back post. His cross beat the defender and Firmino seemed almost surprised to get to it. The cross deflected off Firmino more than anything else and Rebrov gladly took it into his hands.
It was all Liverpool at this stage. Spartak were offering very little going forward.
On one rare occasion when Spartak did advance and win a corner they were nearly caught on the break. From the corner, the Reds broke free with Alexander-Arnold playing Henderson through on the right. The captain’s cross was just ahead of the stretching Mané. Salah got to it at the back post but couldn’t direct his tight-angled effort on target. As it happened, Mané had been adjudged to be offside.
Half-time: Spartak Moscow 1 – 1 Liverpool
The second-half was very much more of the same. Coutinho had a cheeky free-kick effort turned away by Rebrov after the Brazilian playmaker tried to put his shot in low at the near post.
Karius had to show strong hands to fist away a breakaway effort from Eshchenko for Spartak a minute later. That was Spartak’s only attempt in the second half.
Liverpool were completely on top again but Spartak were hanging on through a combination of last-ditch defending and Liverpool’s poor decision-making.
In the 66th minute, Spartak’s goalkeeper and captain, Rebrov, had to go off after being treated for an injury sustained in a collision with Salah’s a few minutes beforehand. Selikhov replaced him after a lengthy delay in play.
Mané was replaced by Sturridge in the 69th minute. Four minutes later and Wijnaldum came in for Emre Can.
Firmino had struggled throughout. He seemed exhausted and his touch was that of a player who definitely was not at 100%. He made a tired challenge in the 74th minute and was booked.
In the 78th minute, the impressive Alberto Moreno cut in from the left and played a nice diagonal ball to Alexander-Arnold. TAA’s first touch was great as he brought the ball onto his left foot. His shot went narrowly over at the near post.
Two minutes later, Firmino won the ball on the edge of the box and again he looked half the player he is with a poor effort, skying it well off the target.
Sturridge had half a chance in the 86th minute. Moreno again did some great work and chipped a nice ball into the box on the left. Firmino nodded it down into the path of the England striker but Selikhov was quick to narrow the angle and Sturridge put it into the side-netting from very close range.
There were to be eight minutes of injury-time as a result of Rebrov’s earlier injury and on-pitch treatment.
Liverpool had three more chances to take all three points. Firstly, Henderson chipped a perfect ball into Sturridge. Unmarked and from seven yards out you would’ve put your money on the goal but his left-footed volley sliced over Selikhov’s goal. Minutes later, Firmino was put in on the left from a great Moreno pass. Firmino had Salah and Sturridge in the centre but his low cross was behind both of them. It perfectly summed up the night Bobby had experienced.
The final chance was in the 96th minute. Alexander-Arnold swung in a great cross from the right. Salah met it for the header in the six-yard box. Selikhov thanked his lucky stars as the header went right in his direction and he just needed a strong hand to keep it out.
That was how it finished. Another night where it was simply hard to believe that Liverpool’s dominance wasn’t turned into a victory. Look at the xG – Spartak 0.1 v Liverpool 2.6!!!
Newcastle and Rafa are next up on Sunday.
Final Score: Spartak Moscow 1 – 1 Liverpool
xG via fivethirtyeight.com