05 December 2017

Liverpool v Spartak Moscow 12.06.17

2:45pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 2 and ESPN3

Previous Group results:
Liverpool: 3-3 Sevilla (a); 3-0 Maribor (h); 7-0 Maribor (a); 1-1 Spartak (a); 2-2 Sevilla (h)
Spartak: 1-1 Maribor (h); 1-2 Sevilla (a); 5-1 Sevilla (h); 1-1 Liverpool (h); 1-1 Maribor (a)

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 5-1 Brighton (a); 3-0 Stoke (a); 1-1 Chelsea (h)
Spartak: 1-0 Arsenal Tula (a); 3-1 Zenit (h); 1-1 Maribor (h)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Firmino 6; Salah 5; Can 3; Alexander-Arnold, Coutinho 2; Mané, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sturridge 1
Spartak: Promes, Ze Luis 2; Fernando, Glushakov, L Adriano, Melgarejo, Samedov,1

Referee: Szymon Marciniak (POL)

Guess at a line-up:
Gomez Lovren Klavan Moreno
Wijnaldum Henderson Coutinho
Salah Firmino Mané

Not that I necessarily know what "full-strength, first-choice" is anymore, but I'm guessing "full-strength, first-choice" tomorrow.

4-3-3, because despite all the tweaks and variations we've seen in recent weeks, that's what Liverpool have played in Europe and that's what Liverpool have played at home. Karius in goal, because Karius has been the Champions League keeper. Gomez and Klavan are fit again, so Gomez and Moreno at fullback, and Lovren and Klavan at center-back. Coutinho and two more from Henderson, Can, and Wijnaldum in midfield; I'm guessing Can left out because he's a yellow away from suspension (along with Moreno) but *shrugs*. And Firmino, Salah, Mané up front, to wreak all sorts of havoc.

But, sure, I wouldn't be all that surprised if we get Oxlade-Chamberlain or Sturridge or Milner somewhere in the front six. Liverpool have eight matches between now and New Years' Day. There's a Merseyside Derby on Sunday. I don't think I've guessed a lineup remotely correctly since Sevilla. And Liverpool have options, increasingly so going by the lineups and results we've seen over the last month. Which is fun.

Meanwhile, Spartak have lost just once in the 12 matches since hosting Liverpool, a 1-2 defeat at Sevilla in this competition. They were seventh in the Russian Premier League with 14 points from 11 games when we last spoke, now they're fourth with 34 points from 19 games. But they have kept just two clean sheets during that stretch: a 0-0 draw against Amkar Perm five weeks ago and a 1-0 win at Arsenal Tula last Friday.

Spartak played 5-4-1 the last time these sides met, but that's not Spartak Moscow's usual formation. They've used 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 in almost all of their matches since. Maybe Spartak stick with what worked, as they stifled Liverpool fairly well – even if Liverpool's wastefulness was as much a culprit – but Liverpool now has been a vastly more potent side than the Liverpool of two months ago.

No Spartak player who was available for the last meeting between these sides will miss tomorrow's match; Kombarov, Tigiev, and Ananidze remain absent. But both Promes and Glushakov – important players who missed for the last tie – will be available. Promes is obviously the most terrifying, with 10 goals and eight assists in the league and Europe this season. Either Gomez or Moreno are going to have their hands full tomorrow.

Let's guess Selikhov; Eschenko, Tasci, Kutepov, Dzhiklya; Popov, Fernando, Glushakov; Samedov, L Adriano, Promes. As usual, emphasis on guess. It could be 4-4-2. It could be 5-4-1. Luis Adriano, approaching Promes in terms of both output and potential damage, could play on the flank with Ze Luis starting as the central striker, in place of Samedov.

Spartak need a win to qualify for the knockout rounds, three points behind Liverpool and two behind Sevilla. Liverpool will progress with a draw, topping the group with a win tomorrow. The only way Liverpool advance with a loss is if Sevilla somehow fail to win in Maribor, which is incredibly unlikely.

It's safe to assume that Liverpool won't play for the draw. That's not what Liverpool do, that's not how Liverpool succeed. Liverpool will go for the throat. Liverpool will look to score, repeatedly, as they've often done over the last month, with at least three goals scored in seven of their last eight matches. With just six goals conceded at home all season, and only one in the last five matches.

Draws against Sevilla (twice) and Spartak have made qualification harder than it should have been. Liverpool have one more chance to remedy that.

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