Three talking points from Liverpool's Champions League demolition of Spartak Moscow
Philippe Coutinho plundered a hat-trick as Liverpool qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League courtesy of a 7-0 thrashing of Spartak Moscow. The Reds made a barnstorming start, with the Brazilian netting two goals inside the first 15 minutes. Roberto Firmino added a third moments later as Liverpool led 3-0 at the interval.
There was to be no repeat of their second-half surrender to Sevilla in their last European match, however. Jurgen Klopp’s men flexed their muscles with four further strikes, as Sadio Mane scored twice and Coutinho completed his hat-trick before Mohamed Salah rounded off the evening.
The victory ensured Liverpool finished as Group E winners, which could hand them a favourable tie in the last 16. Here are three talking points from a magical night at Anfield.
Coutinho leads Liverpool’s new ‘Fab Four’
With Salah having grabbed most of the headlines after his sensational start to his Liverpool career, the Brazil international has been forgotten somewhat. But he reminded everybody of his qualities with a dominant display against Spartak.
His first goal came from the penalty spot following a foul on Salah, before he put the finishing touch to a sublime move that oozed class. Coutinho’s deflected effort shortly after half-time meant he went home with the match ball.
There had been fierce speculation in the summer that Coutinho was on his way to Barcelona, as a replacement for Neymar. The Catalan giants may yet come back in for him in January or next summer, but what is certain is that he is still fundamentally important to the Reds.
Thanks to the Beatles, Liverpool is known as the home of the ‘Fab Four’. But now there is a new quartet in town. Coutinho, Salah, Mane and Firmino are proving to be a smash hit on the red half of Merseyside.
Job done, but sterner tests await Klopp’s men
To highlight just how dazzling Liverpool were on their return to Champions League football, only Paris Saint-Germain outscored them in qualifying for the last 16. But although the final Group E table made for good reading, Klopp knows there is still much work to be done if his side are to go deep into the competition.
Nights like this one against Spartak underline the attacking flair the Reds have at their disposal. But on the flip side, their capitulation away to Sevilla a fortnight ago exposed their defensive shortcomings and is still fresh in the mind.
Although finishing top of the group is always preferable, Liverpool could potentially draw Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus in the next round. How will Klopp’s defence cope with the sterner test one of those clubs would undoubtedly provide?
Is there a power shift in European football?
Confirmation that Liverpool had qualified for the knockout stages of Europe’s showpiece competition made it a clean sweep of Premier League teams. In recent years, Spain, and to a lesser extent Germany, have monopolised the latter stages of the Champions League. But could that be about to change?
That almost a third of the remaining 16 clubs are from England represents a change in the balance of power, one which suggests the Premier League is returning as the dominant force. All five of England’s clubs qualified with relative ease, with only Chelsea failing to top their group, and have a realistic chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.
The proof of whether this is a genuine power shift or just a false dawn will come in May, of course. But the initial signs are promising.
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