Just as the Champions League anthem rang out, a vast banner rose the length of one of the stands.

At its centre was a bust of Spartacus and above it the motto by which the leader of the great gladiator revolt lived his life: “Win or Die”.

By the end of a compelling evening nobody had won and nobody had died but, having aimed no fewer than 17 shots at the home side’s goal, Liverpool would ask themselves how they did not come home with three points. It was the same question posed after the equally frantic 2-2 draw with Sevilla which opened their Champions League campaign.

Jurgen Klopp had gone emphatically for the win and had Daniel Sturridge not hooked the ball into the massed flags of Spartak’s supporters from five yards or Mohamed Salah not been denied from point-blank range in the closing moments, he would have got it.

Despite all the arguments that no team that defends as chaotically as Liverpool will travel very far in the Champions League, Klopp chose a side laced with attacking potential. For the first time Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Philippe Coutinho started a competitive game. When he was asked why, Klopp replied: “Everybody asked me so I thought why not give it a go?”

Under Ossie Ardiles’s quixotic management, Tottenham had their ‘Famous Five’ forwards. This was Liverpool’s Fab Four. They will certainly entertain. Whether they will win anything is rather more open to question.

Coutinho scored a beautiful equaliser and Liverpool played well enough to win by more than one goal.

A home draw against Sevilla and another point in the intense atmosphere inside the first permanent home Russia’s biggest football club has ever had is not a bad start. Klopp will, however, think it might have been better.

Coutinho’s free-kick forced a fine save from Artem Rebrov and when the injured Spartak keeper had been taken off on the back of a buggy, his fellow Brazilian, Firmino squandered a fine opportunity to beat his replacement, Aleksandr Selikhov. Liverpool had six times as many chances as their opponents.

The debate about his choice of goalkeeper will rumble on. Loris Karius produced an acrobatic, two-fisted save to deny a vicious shot from Andrei Eschenko but there will be question marks over his response to Fernando’s free-kick that briefly gave Spartak Moscow the lead.

Having waited 16 years for their first Russian title, Spartak have not defended it well and it was not long after they raised their “Win or Die” banner that the sheer firepower Liverpool could bring to bear started to tell. Firmino rose to meet Mane’s cross from the left and Popov flung himself high to his right to fist away the header.

Karius was not quite so good. Spartak’s goal was an entirely Brazilian affair. Coutinho gave away the free-kick and Fernando drove it over the wall and into the top corner of Karius’s net. For the ninth successive Champions League fixture Liverpool had failed to keep a clean sheet.

Behind Karius’s goal were bronze statues of Nikolai Starostin and his three brothers. Nikolai founded Spartak Moscow, he played for them alongside his brothers and he later managed the club. However, Lavrenty Beria, the head of Stalin’s secret police supported Dynamo Moscow and Starostin was sent to the gulag. Football has always been a serious business in Russia.

It is a serious business on Merseyside and you sensed that if Liverpool were to collapse they might do so in this atmosphere. Instead they responded in the only way they know under Klopp – thrillingly.

Mane had been clearly offside when he headed past Rebrov but now he combined beautifully with Coutinho and the forward whom Liverpool had clung on to keep amid increasingly desperate offers from Barcelona finished fabulously. It was his first goal in the Champions League and it was one he will always remember.

There ought, however, to have been more.

Source: Independent

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