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Coutinho-Mane-Salah-Firmino nearly click as Liverpool shoot themselves in the foot again

22:13 BST 26/09/2017
Firmino Spartak
Liverpool's profligacy and a moment of poor decision-making saw them draw a second Champions League game they should have clearly won

A gigantic red-and-white tifo, featuring a golden gladiator, a warrior vanquishing a dragon and the stern words “Win or Die” floated around the Otkrytiye Arena ahead of kick off to welcome Spartak Moscow onto their turf.

The message, though, feels more relatable to Liverpool this season with a reaction of fatalism served up on every occasion they fail to register victory.

While the conclusions on Jurgen Klopp’s side are often overblown and removed from context, the frustrations of supporters are understandable and valid given their witnessing of the same issues ruining a really good thing.

The amount of attacking weaponry the club possesses is frightening and when the forward players fully find their offensive groove, Steven Gerrard’s famous “all the best” remark to opposition defences will again trend.

On Tuesday night, the brush strokes from Klopp’s “artists” were promising, but without the all-important finishing touches. And as has been the story of their season so far, Liverpool’s inability to translate their dominance to the scoreboard was punished at the other end of the pitch.

They had 16 shots in total to Spartak’s four - two a piece in each half - yet the giant screen still read 1-1 at the final whistle.

There was no debate over who the superior side was, but conversely, there’s no column for comments next to the results section in the Champions League group table.

A draw in Moscow is not the worst result, but the predicament is they deserved more - as was the case against Watford, Burnley and Sevilla.

Here, the most intimidating element of Spartak in the opening exchanges had been the Fratria, their ultras, persistently chanting, clapping and swinging their scarves as Liverpool kept Artem Rebrov busy.

Philippe Coutinho, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino - starting a competitive fixture for the first time in tandem - constantly found spaces to exploit despite the hosts doing their best to be compact and obstructive.

They provided glimpses as to how explosive they could potentially be, but with attack Liverpool’s strongest form of defence, almost just doesn’t cut it.

The Reds had actually handled themselves well on the rare occasions Spartak advanced early on, but Emre Can’s knack for needing too many touches was capitalised on as he was pressed and played a loose ball down the flank, which set Massimo Carrera’s men on the attack.

They moved possession inside and Coutinho was punished for a trip 25 yards out, which Fernando bent over the wall and to Loris Karius’ left.

The German had vowed to maximise his opportunity by showing the manager he should be the club’s first choice in-between the sticks, but his weak attempt to keep out the midfielder’s effort didn’t fortify his case as the Merseysiders were the architects of their own misery again.

Spartak were enlivened by the opener, but given the cannonry at Klopp’s disposal, the visitors were always going to eventually click and bang in the final third.

They did it in stunning fashion too, with Mane and Coutinho combining to devastating and delightful effect.

The Brazil international fed the speedster, who commanded the attention of two markers and intelligently slipped the ball around them to meet the No.10’s run.


Up to his usual tricks. 

A post shared by Liverpool Football Club (@liverpoolfc) on Sep 26, 2017 at 12:34pm PDT

Coutinho took a touch and as Rebrov tried to narrow the angle, he lifted the ball over the advancing keeper with power and precision to score his ninth goal in his last 14 games for Liverpool.

After the interval, the Reds resumed their troubling of Spartak’s rearguard, with Dejan Lovren forcing a save off the playmaker’s free-kick.

Coutinho was denied from another stellar set-piece with Rebrov doing well to deny him after the wall had been cleared and the bottom-left corner targeted.

On 67 minutes, the gloveman was replaced through injury with Alexander Selikhov deputising and he too stood firm as Liverpool’s onslaught continued.

More goals didn’t arrive and it’s two Champions League draws in two despite clearly being the most formidable team in Group E. 

"We, in this moment, are not the luckiest team in world football, so it’s not that things go easy for us," Klopp said afterwards. 

"We did really well in creating chances against a very defence-orientated team. We didn’t give a lot of chances away for them; the free-kick they scored with was not a foul, so it’s difficult to change this. In defending if you win the ball clear and there’s still a whistle it’s difficult, but it was a brilliant free-kick. We made our equaliser, we scored and we could have created even more chances, that’s the crazy thing.

"We did enough and we had four or five 100 per cent chances and that’s then disappointing but it is like it is. In the Champions League in the group stage the only target you have is to go through the group to the next round, and that’s still possible for us.

"We know now more about two teams in the group and both games we could have, or should have, won but we didn’t. In the end that’s always our fault, but we will carry on and carry on like this, or even better. I saw a lot of good things tonight, it was not a perfect game, but there were a lot of good things."

Captain Jordan Henderson, who turned in a top performance with Alberto Moreno also deserving credit as he continues his renaissance, provided a more succinct summary.

“We controlled the game from start to finish, so should win the game comfortably," he told told BT Sport. "We’re disappointed. I thought we defended well for the majority of the game and created chances – but we’ve just got to finish teams off and be more ruthless.”