Rus­sian romp Coutinho’s hat-trick leaves Liver­pool in seventh heaven

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Ja­son Burt CHIEF FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT at An­field

Liver­pool have their ‘Fab Four’ and the Premier League have their ‘Fan­tas­tic Five’ as the quin­tet of English clubs all qual­i­fied for the last 16 of the Cham­pi­ons League – which is the first time any coun­try has achieved that re­mark­able feat. Here there was also a ‘Mag­nif­i­cent Seven’ goal rush.

They com­pleted it in won­der­ful style, blow­ing away Spar­tak Moscow with an ex­hil­a­rat­ing at­tack­ing dis­play orches­trated by their four re­lent­less at­tack­ers. Philippe Coutinho, cap­tain­ing the side, struck his first Liver­pool hat-trick, while Sa­dio Mane, twice, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all scored as they topped Group E.

Man­ager Jur­gen Klopp had de­scribed this show­down as “all or noth­ing” and so his team gave their all and left the em­bar­rassed Rus­sian cham­pi­ons with noth­ing. The goals mean Liver­pool scored an in­cred­i­ble 23 times in their six group games, only bet­tered by Paris Saintt-ger­main this sea­son, with a record 25 goals – and more than any English team has ever scored, more than Manch­ester United in 1998-99, when they won it.

“Wow, how did that hap­pen,” Klopp said later. For Liver­pool it is the first time they have reached the Cham­pi­ons League group stages since 2009, and it felt like a sig­nif­i­cant land­mark for them, hav­ing fallen short in 2010 and 2014, ahead of Sun­day’s Mersey­side derby. The one set­back, with ram­i­fi­ca­tions for that fix­ture, was the loss of Al­berto Moreno to an an­kle in­jury that re­duced him to tears.

The game was quickly over. Liver­pool claimed three goals in a dev­as­tat­ing 14-minute first-half spell, aided by some hor­ren­dous de­fend­ing from Spar­tak, partly forced by some awe­some at­tack­ing from all an­gles. The lead was gift-wrapped in­side four min­utes. It came from a penalty, awarded af­ter Ge­orgi Dzhikiya bizarrely pulled back Salah fol­low­ing a cross by Coutinho, even though it was sail­ing over the head of the pair of them. Did Dzhikiya slip? Maybe. But he still held Salah’s arm, bring­ing the striker down with him. Coutinho stepped up and calmly lifted the ball to the goal­keeper’s left, as Alek­sandr Se­likhov dived to his right.

The Kop’s rau­cous re­ac­tion had prob­a­bly helped make up the mind of Pol­ish ref­eree Szy­mon Marciniak, but it was mad de­fend­ing by Dzhikiya. It was also – at three min­utes and 51 sec­onds – the fastest goal in a Cham­pi­ons League game at this sta­dium.

Liver­pool were buoyed; Liver­pool were ram­pant. Klopp had re­united that at­tack­ing quar­tet, af­ter sev­eral games of ro­ta­tion, although he later de­scribed the for­ma­tion as a more de­fen­sive-minded 4-4-1-1, with Mane and Coutinho wide mid­field­ers and Salah be­hind Firmino.

What­ever it was, it worked. They broke, with all four in­volved, as Mane slid the ball through to Salah, who switched it out to Firmino. The striker had time and space and rolled it across the area for Coutinho to side-foot back across goal and into the net.

Then they struck again – and again Spar­tak were cul­pa­ble, as they lost pos­ses­sion on half­way with Mane sprint­ing into their area and cross­ing to­wards Salah. The ball was in­ter­cepted by Ser­dar Tasci – it may well have been another penalty as it struck the de­fender’s arm – but it re­bounded to Firmino, who curled it first-time in­side the far post with the out­side of his right boot.

So the tie was fin­ished. Liver­pool had drawn 1-1 in Moscow in Septem­ber, but Spar­tak were with­out Quincy Promes, their lead­ing scorer, cap­tain De­nis Glushakov and the striker Ze Luis on that oc­ca­sion, and although their record in Europe is mod­est, they had lost just one of their past 19 games in all com­pe­ti­tions. How­ever, any Klopp con­cerns had been quickly blown away.

Once more the quar­tet com­bined, with Coutinho play­ing an ‘around-the-cor­ner’ pass to Firmino, who fer­ried it on for Salah, who flicked it out wide to al­low Mane a clear run on goal. It was a glo­ri­ous set-up – only for Mane to blast over… just as Salah did af­ter wrig­gling free mo­ments later.

Moreno’s re­place­ment was James Mil­ner, and such was Liver­pool’s dom­i­nance that he popped up as a left-winger, not a left back, in­volv­ing him­self in three of the four sec­ond-half goals. Soon af­ter the re-start they struck, with Coutinho push­ing the ball out wide to Mil­ner, who crossed for Mane to scis­sor a glo­ri­ous, ac­ro­batic right-footed vol­ley high into the net.

An­field erupted for that one and then, also, for Coutinho as he com­pleted that hat-trick, col­lect­ing a short pass from Mil­ner and driv­ing his shot goal­wards, with it ric­o­chet­ing heav­ily off de­fender Sal­va­tore Boc­chetti and be­yond the wrong­footed Se­likhov. It was Liver­pool’s first Cham­pi­ons League hat-trick for 10 years.

Mane claimed his sec­ond with Firmino’s re­place­ment Daniel Stur­ridge pulling out wide right, from Salah’s pass, and un­selfishly cross­ing low for Mane to stretch, as he stum­bled, and side-foot home. Stur­ridge should have had a penalty when he was felled by Se­likhov, and then the striker flicked the ball over un­der pres­sure.

Fi­nally it was Salah who did score, with Mil­ner alertly head­ing the ball back in­field to­wards Stur­ridge, who smartly jumped over it. It ran to the Egyp­tian, who checked and fired high into the goal to com­plete the rout, the sec­ond time Liver­pool have scored seven in Europe this sea­son. It was some show of power.

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