Liverpool travel to the Otkrytie Arena tonight to face Massimo Carrera’s Spartak Moscow, who, like Liverpool, are looking for a first win of the Champions League Group Stage, along with the other two teams of the group, Sevilla and Maribor, with all four teams sitting on one point. Liverpool will need a strong side to overcome the current Russian Premier League Champions, so who will play?
To start with the absences, Nathaniel Clyne is still unavailable with a back injury, while Adam Lallana is currently recovering still from a thigh problem, although has been seen running around Melwood this week. Joe Gomez is fully fit but will not feature tonight due to his two yellow cards in the first group match at Anfield against Sevilla.
For the players who will are likely to feature, Jurgen Klopp has said that Loris Karius will start in goal tonight, as the Liverpool boss sticks to his policy of rotating goalkeepers for different competitions. Karius last played in the first Group E match at home to Sevilla.
Onto the back four, with Clyne out injured, Trent Alexander-Arnold will most likely feature at right back after a few impressive performances, which have included a stunning free kick in the Champions League Play-Off round against Hoffenheim. However, Alexander-Arnold hasn’t featured for the Reds since the 1-1 draw at home to Burnley. The two centre backs are out of a choice of three: Klavan, Matip and Lovren. In recent weeks, when full strength teams have been playing, the partnership of Matip and Lovren has been present, including in the Champions League. It is most likely that this will continue, but don’t be surprised to see the Estonian to feature. For the left back situation, it is a choice of either Alberto Moreno or the new recruit, Andrew Robertson. Robertson has made two appearances for Liverpool so far this season, one in the Premier League and one in the League Cup. This could be the Scot’s first chance in Europe for the Reds, but it will more likely be the Spaniard put in the number three role.
As Klopp’s men are well known for their three man attack, it is likely that the Anfield outlet will play a 4-3-3 with three men in midfield. One man almost certain to start will be the captain, Jordan Henderson. The leader with the armband has started all bar one game in all competitions for Liverpool this season. This run will surely continue and the Englishman should be in the starting XI tonight and leading the others. For the other two midfielders, it will probably be Emre Can and Philippe Coutinho starting for Liverpool. The German is a commanding figure, a physical presence on the ground and in the air with great passing and shooting capabilities. Coutinho made his first start of the Premier League season at the weekend and was “very important” to quote Liverpool’s gaffer in the win at the King Power Stadium, grabbing a goal and an assist in the 3-2 victory. This will probably be the midfielder’s first European start of the season, coming on as a substitute in the 2-2 draw with Sevilla at Anfield to a roar of applause from the Liverpool faithful. Other midfielders who will be pushing for a start in tonight’s game will be Georginio Wijnaldum, who was taking Coutinho’s spot amid the Barcelona transfer rumours, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, still looking for a first win while at Anfield.
Liverpool’s attack has been their focal point this campaign so far, with Firmino down the middle, Mané on the right and new signing Salah running down the left wing. The partnership between the three of them has gained so much credit from football lovers. However, since Mané has been banned domestically for three matches after a collision with Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson, he has only made one appearance since the loss at the Etihad, that being in the Champions League. The Senegalese has now completed his domestic ban, missing games against Burnley and two against Leicester. He will most likely be starting in Moscow tonight. On the opposite side of the pitch will be the Egyptian, Mohamed Salah, who has played a role in every match so far for Liverpool bar one, the League Cup defeat to Leicester City. The prolific goalscorer should be starting tonight if Liverpool want their best chance of getting a positive result in the Russian capital.
With both wingers chosen, the striker position is where Klopp may have a headache. Roberto Firmino, having taken the number 9 shirt for the Reds this campaign, has been almost ever present in the starting XI for Klopp’s side. However, he was substituted off at the weekend against Leicester for Daniel Sturridge. The Englishman replaced him and gave a marvellous performance, including assisting captain Jordan Henderson for the winning goal, while also putting himself about, winning challenges and getting into good attacking positions to show he is back to fitness and can still do a job for the team. So with Sturridge fighting for his place in the first team and Firmino scoring one goal in almost a month, Klopp may favour the former Chelsea and Manchester City man for tonight’s match. It really is a toss up on who will he pick, Firmino or Sturridge?
Spartak Moscow on the other hand, are without first choice striker Quincy Promes as well as attackers Ze Luis and Denis Davydov, leaving the Russian champions with just two strikers, Sylvanus Nimely and Luiz Adriano. In addition, midfielders Ronan Zobnin, Jano Ananidze and Denis Glushakov are out along with defender Georgi Tigiev, all out through injuries. Therefore, Liverpool must be favourites to win this match, with bookmakers putting the Reds on a 4/7 odds of getting their first Champions League win since 2014. The predicted XI is certainly good enough to give the Anfield faithful what they want tonight, but this is football, and not just football, Champions League football, where absolutely anything can happen. The game will be lively, thrilling and entertaining, that’s for sure. Klopp’s men have the ability. Whether they do it or not, will be seen at 19:45 tonight.