Liverpool secured their place in the UEFA Champions League last 16 on Wednesday evening as they defeated Spartak Moscow by seven goals to nil at Anfield.
Philippe Coutinho scored a hat-trick to put the Reds into the next stage of the competition for the first time since 2009, with Real Madrid, AS Roma, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Basel and Bayern Munich their potential opponents - with the draw made on Monday.
Reds race into 3-0 half-time lead
Pressure was building on the hosts heading into the game, with the knowledge that a Spartak win would likely see Liverpool miss out on qualification had Sevilla beat Group E whipping boys Maribor.
A Liverpool win would not only see them through as winners of the group, but it would also be the first time any single country has sent five teams through to the knockout stages.
The Reds took the lead inside four minutes through captain Coutinho, who converted from the penalty spot after Mo Salah was dragged down inside the area by Spartak’s Georgi Dzhikiya, who earned a yellow card.
The score was almost doubled a minute later thanks to a classic counter-press, as Salah fed Roberto Firmino with a lovely back-heel, but the Brazilian’s dangerous cross was cleared.
Emre Can was shown a yellow card for his tackle on Ze Luis moments later, leading with a high foot despite seeming to win the ball. He will miss the first leg of Liverpool’s round of 16 tie for an accumulation of bookings throughout the group stage.
The start went from good to great for the home side, as Coutinho doubled the score with his second of the match in the 15th minute. Sadio Mane began the attack on the halfway line, feeding the ever-active Salah, who slotted the ball out wide to Firmino.
The number nine spotted the run of his Brazilian counterpart at the edge of the box and delivered an inch perfect pass for Coutinho, whose left-footed shot sent Spartak goalkeeper Alexander Selikhov the wrong way.
If the night was great for Liverpool it went from bad to worse for Spartak, who saw provider turn scorer in Firmino only two minutes on from the second goal as he made it three for the Reds, with a delicate prod of the outside of his boot all before the 20-minute mark.
Despite a period of settled play from Spartak – including a moment which saw Joe Gomez and Loris Karius collide some 40 yards from Liverpool’s goal – it was Liverpool who had the chance to increase the goal tally when Mane went through in the 36th minute. Salah’s delicate touch slid him in, but the Senegal international could only blaze over the bar from 15 yards out.
Alberto Moreno played the martyr minutes before half-time, as he took the brunt of Spartak’s biggest opportunity of the half, the block causing him an injury which saw him subbed for James Milner moments before the close of the first-half. He took the captain’s armband from Coutinho.
Mane got the second-half under way in the same manner Liverpool started the first, as Milner produced a fine cross to find Mane some 12 yards from goal, and he delivered an incredible volley to send the ball flying into the top corner, taking Liverpool’s group stage goals scored tally to 20 – a record for any English team – beating the 19 previously set by Manchester United.
Coutinho added another two minutes later, latching onto another Milner cross and firing another left-footed effort in via a Spartak defender to make the score an astounding 5-0 by the 50th minute.
With Liverpool in full control, the game was well beyond the reach of Spartak. Salah and Coutinho combined once again on the 60-minute mark but forced only a corner, as the Reds looked to strengthen the competition for the goal of the night award.
With the Merseyside Derby in mind subs rolled on for Liverpool as they shifted into second gear, controlling much of the possession. Daniel Sturridge was introduced, and quickly provided the assist for Mane who stabbed home the square to make it six for Liverpool.
There were calls for a penalty as Sturridge seemed to be brought down by Selikhov in the 81st minute, but he got the benefit of the doubt from the referee.
It had been a busy day for Salah but his goal didn’t come until the 86th minute, as Milner collected his hat-trick of assists with a reverse header. Salah sat down the defender in his face, and smashed home on his weak foot to collect his 12th goal in 11 games to round off the scoring on an emphatic night for Liverpool.