By Simon Evans
LIVERPOOL, England (Reuters) – Brazilian Philippe Coutinho struck a hat-trick as Liverpool crushed Spartak Moscow 7-0 to move into the knockout stages of the Champions League as Group E winners.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp fielded an attacking line-up with Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah in attack, with Coutinho playing behind them, and it was simply too much for the Russians to handle.
The five-times European champions took the lead in the fourth minute with a Coutinho penalty after Salah was pulled down by Georgi Dzhikiya.
Spartak allowed Liverpool’s attacking trident far too much space and they took full advantage in the 15th minute with a super team goal as Mane fed Salah, who slipped the ball inside to Firmino to set up his compatriot, Coutinho, for a simple finish.
Three minutes later, Liverpool added their third. Mane chipped the ball into the box, Spartak defender Serdar Tasci failed to clear and Firmino accepted the gift and confidently drove home.
But having given up a 3-0 half-time lead in their last Champions League outing in Sevilla, Liverpool were in no mood to drop down a gear and they put the game to bed within five minutes of the restart.
James Milner whipped in a cross from the left which Mane met first-time with an unstoppable volley and then a deflected shot from Coutinho completed his hat-trick to make it 5-0.
Mane got his second when he scooped in a low cross from Georginio Wijanaldum in the 76th minute, and then Salah, who had been outstanding all evening, made it 7-0, blasting home after some typically clever footwork in the box.
It is Liverpool’s second 7-0 win in the group following their victory by the same scoreline against Maribor in Slovenia in October.
Spartak finish third in the group, behind second-placed Sevilla, and move into the Europa League.
(Reporting by Simon Evans, editing by Ed Osmond, Neville Dalton)