Champions League Preview: Liverpool FC – Spartak Moscow

Liverpool FC v Spartak Moscow – Wednesday, 6 December, 19:45 GMT – Anfield, Liverpool.

Spartak Moscow fans, players and officials will be hoping for an old-school mid-90s result on Wednesday night as they faceoff against Liverpool in a direct shootout for a Champions League knockout spot. All three of Liverpool, Sevilla and Spartak are still able to win Group E, in what promises to be an exciting final day showdown.

How do they achieve this? For Spartak it’s simple, but once again I’ll hand you all over to the capable hands of RFN stats-man Alexey Spektrowski for this one.

Spartak advance to the Champions League knockout stage, if:

  • They defeat Liverpool. Regardless of Sevilla’s result, Spartak will finish ahead of either Liverpool (if Sevilla win or draw against Maribor) or Sevilla (if Sevilla lose to Maribor). If Sevilla don’t defeat Maribor, Spartak also win the group.

Otherwise, Spartak advance to the Europa League knockout stage.

READ MORE: Estimating European Chances for Russian Clubs

 

Tactical Analysis

Spartak have won just three of their previous 26 away matches in the Champions League and a famous 5-0 loss at Anfield is the away side’s biggest ever European loss in the 21st Century. However, the Red-Whites’ have lost just once in 19 games – away at the intimidating Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium – and go into this game having won four in a row in the league, scoring eleven goals and conceding just three.

Liverpool away may seem like a daunting task, but their fixture list is much easier and Spartak at home is likewise difficult for the Reds. Spartak will score, that much is clear – and as will Liverpool. Both sides score for fun but leak goals regularly; Liverpool have only managed two clean sheets in their last nine games while Spartak have kept just three in their last twelve.

The Red-Whites typically perform better against those who come out and attack, having put five past Sevilla and Spartak Nalchik (who really came out and attacked the Russian champions, eventually losing out 5-2), four past Krasnodar adn three past Zenit St. Petersburg and Lokomotiv Moscow this season. However, it is a whole different animal facing an attacking lineup which could potentially include any three-four of; Mo Salah, Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Daniel Sturridge.

Massimo Carrera may have considered lining up a back-five had either Dima Kombarov or Georgi Tigiev had been fit, but I wouldn’t imagine he’d line up Georgi Dzhikiya at wing-back. As such, expect a 4-2-3-1 with Ze Luis most advanced and Luiz Adriano slightly withdrawn, combining lethally with Quincy Promes and Aleksandr Samedov, who are both granted the freedom and space to cut inside or drift wide by the front two’s clever movement. This is the sharpest weapon in Massimo Carrera’s armoury, just look here at how three of the four combined for Spartak’s second goal v Zenit a few weeks ago. His side have scored 50 goals in all competitions already this season, with Promes leading the way on thirteen (as well as eight assists).

However, Spartak have suffered defensively this season, especially late on in games. This is in part due to their ageing squad (Denis Glushakov, Kombarov, Andrei Eschenko, Samedov, Luiz Adriano and Serdar Tasci are all aged 30 or over), but also their inability to defend at transitions. They have come unstuck on numerous occasions by counter-attacks, a huge part of Liverpool’s fast-paced style.

Everything you need to know about: FC Spartak Moscow

Team News

Spartak will go into the game with an almost fully fit side, as Dzhikiya returns from the suspension that kept him out of the Maribor game last time out. Fernando was suspended at the weekend but is back for the Liverpool game, Promes was likewise rested for the trip to Tula and will be raring to go for this game.

As such, Dima Kombarov is the only member of the first-team squad to miss out after picking up a rib injury late in the Zenit victory. Long-term injury victims Georgi Tigiev, Artem Timofeev and Jano Ananidze all likewise miss out, leaving the Red-Whites’ somewhat short at left back.

 

Key Players

Aleksandr Selikhov – The young Russian was given a UCL baptism of fire with Artem Rebrov’s injury in the second half against Liverpool in the home fixture. Rebrov at times was the only man stopping Liverpool’s attacking threat but was forced off on 68 minutes. However, Selikhov became the second man to stop them, performing excellently and scoring an individual clean sheet over his 22 minutes, with a 96th-minute one-handed save from a rasping Mo Salah close shot the highlight. The youngster has since concreted his place in the side and will need to be in similar form tonight to keep out Coutinho, Mane and co.

Fernando – After a prolonged championship hangover and well-documented struggles with fitness at the beginning of the year, the Brazilian deep-lying midfielder and midfield partner Glushakov are once again a midfield force, and will only go from strength to strength once Roman Zobnin is fully fit again. The former scored a sumptuous free kick against Spartak (see below) and will go into the game in full fitness and unfatigued after his red card against Zenit resulted in him missing the weekend trip to Tula in treacherous conditions. The Spartak Liverpool are facing are a whole different animal to the start of the season, and Fernando is a major part of why.

Ze Luis – The third of this trio may come as a surprise to those who don’t follow Spartak, and probably expected to see Promes listed. His exploits are clear for all to see, he is undoubtedly the most effective and talented superstar in the nation and just look at his goals v Sevilla to see why. The Cape Verdean striker, Ze Luis, however, is very much unheralded. Although not a prolific goalscorer, his imposing stature and keen ability both in the air and on the floor as a target man brings the rest of Spartak’s experienced and talented attack into the game. He was included in RFN’s Week 18 TOTW of the Premier League for his link-up play allowing Promes and Luiz Adriano to be so effective.

Predicted Lineup

4-2-3-1: Aleksandr Selikhov – Andrei Eschenko, Serdar Tasci, Ilya Kutepov, Georgi Dhikiya – Fernando, Denis Glushakov – Aleksandr Samedov, Luiz Adriano, Quincy Promes – Ze Luis.

 

Match Prediction

The one thing Spartak have in their favour is the English fixture list; Liverpool face Everton in a vital Merseyside derby at the weekend. They are also missing out on a few key faces such as Adam Lallana, Joel Matip and Nathaniel Clyne due to fitness issues and ineligibility.

Despite this, Liverpool have such a potent attacking force I envisage this may be a test too far for Spartak. But still, expect Promes and Samedov to endanger the defensively dodgy Moreno and Joe Gomez likely playing out of position at right-back. To be perfectly honest, this will probably be a rout, especially if they concede early; it is a match-up of one of the most efficient counter-attacking sides in Europe meeting a side which simply cannot defend counter-attacks. However, if Spartak can hold off Liverpool’s storm, they could grab a draw. Thus I’ll be optimistic for once.

Liverpool FC 2 – 2 Spartak Moscow

Author: James Nickels

Born and raised in South Shields, the direct mid-point between Sunderland and Newcastle in North-East England during an era of sustained success and European football for the Magpies, while the Black Cats floundered in the lower divisions, so naturally I decided to support Sunderland. I’ve developed an interest in Russian football over the last decade or so, but it piqued while studying for my Masters’ Degree in Russian and Soviet History, and I’ve been hooked by Spartak Moscow ever since. Considers Eduard Streltsov the best of his generation, and a fond proponent of his repatriation.

Comments

  1. Great preview

  2. Igal Pevsner says:

    A good summary!
    I’ve noticed two errors this time:
    1. “four past Krasnodar adn three past Zenit” — ‘and’
    2. “The former scored a sumptuous free kick against Spartak (see below)” — against Liverpool

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