Philippe Coutinho continued his Liverpool redemption by securing a point with a 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow in the Reds’ second Champions League group match. But Jürgen Klopp would have been frustrated by his side’s wastefulness in Russia.
The Merseysiders had 15 shots to Spartak’s three but only hit the target with five and failed to truly test substitute keeper Aleksandr Selikhov until the death.
Liverpool fell behind after 23 minutes when Coutinho, desperately trying to help out his defence, was penalised 25 yards from goal and in a central position.
Fernando fired the free-kick past stand-in keeper Loris Karius but the German should have done better and his failure to deal with a routine effort will ensure further scrutiny of his position.
But the visitors reacted quickly and were level eight minutes later when Barcelona transfer target Coutinho exchanged passed with the lively Sadio Mané, making his return from a three-match ban, and slotted home with aplomb.
From there Liverpool gained control of proceedings and it only seemed a matter of time until they took the lead against a Spartak side who were happy to sit deep, get men behind the ball and soak up pressure.
The hosts’ ambition was limited and the Reds committed men forward at will but could not find a way past either of Spartak’s keepers on a night when they created more than enough chances to collect their first win in Group E.
But Karius was culpable on Spartak’s opener and will hardly have enhanced his chances of dislodging Mignolet. Fernando’s free-kick opener was central and, if anything, curling back towards the Reds stopper as it flew past him.
Apart from that he had very little to deal with.
Quick to get forward and support Salah in front of him, the teenage full-back thought he’d bagged an assist with a sumptuous cross which the offside Mané stooped to head home. But the linesman’s flag intervened.
A threat throughout, Alexander-Arnold always provided an outlet down the right-hand side and was defensively sound to boot, winning both the tackles he attempted and making three interceptions.
The hosts offered little in the way of attacking threat and Matip, alongside Lovren, was able to repel everything the hosts threw at Liverpool’s backline, winning 33 per cent of his aerial duels and completing 84 per cent of his passes.
The Croatian is not known for his reliability at centre-back but came through one of the quieter 90 minutes of his Reds career without being unduly trouble at any stage.
Spartak offered next to nothing going forward and there was noting Lovren and Matip could have done about the Russians’ first-half goal. The former Southampton defender won all four of his tackles and completed 95 per cent of his passes.
Spartak set up very defensively meaning Moreno – like Alexander-Arnold on the other side – was able to push forward and play virtually as a winger, helping commit more numbers into midfield for much of the first half.
He provided less of an outlet in the second period, despite Liverpool’s continued control of proceedings, and a late cross into the gloves of substitute keeper Selikhov was indicative of the visitors’ wasteful deliveries.
Earned a fairly stupid booking with a lunging challenge in the opening minutes but played with good discipline from there on out.
The German was, however, partially at fault for the hosts’ opener. He took too many touches in the middle of the park, narrowly avoiding losing possession, before stitching Alexander-Arnold up with a blind pass. Coutinho conceded a free-kick and Spartak took advantage.
In total, Can completed 73 per cent of the passes he attempted and won one of three tackles.
The Reds skipper was the deepest-lying of the midfield three by some distance but it was his safety-first approach, playing just ahead of centre-backs Matip and Lovren, which enabled Coutinho and Can to drive forward knowing the back door was bolted shut.
He kept things ticking over, winning 67 per cent of the tackles he attempted and connecting with 87 per cent of the passes he tried.
It’s been a stop-start first few weeks of the season for Coutinho but he is showing no signs of letting the transfer speculation get to his head.
The brilliant Brazilian grabbed a goal and an assist at Leicester on Saturday and built on that in Moscow. Given the freedom to run from deep he was influential again, coolly slotting home the Reds’ equaliser following a neat exchange of passes with Mané.
It was his ninth goal in his last 14 appearances for the Reds, underlining his importance to Klopp’s side. Surprisingly it was his first Champions League goal, though Coutinho has only made 16 appearances in the competition.
Perhaps the quietest of Liverpool’s four big hitters in the first half, the electric Egyptian’s blushes were spared moments before half time when his failure to slot the ball into an empty net was rendered moot by the linesman’s flag.
He had another chance after 15 minutes of the second half but, after collecting Mané’s exquisite pass, was thwarted by alert keeping from Spartak stopperArtem Rebrov.
And, deep in injury time, he should have won it, somehow seeing his effort blocked by Selikhov from point-blank range.
The Brazilian has clearly missed Mané’s delivery. However, he should have done better with the Senegalese winger’s inch-perfect cross after 18 minutes, directing his header straight at keeper Rebrov. That set the tone for a wasteful evening.
He was left red faced again before half time when he somehow steered Henderson’s perfect cut-back wide.
Late in the game he got in behind but his cut-back, with Daniel Sturridge and Salah waiting, was dreadful and Spartak got off the hook – again.
It was like the former Southampton winger had never been away. Having missed Liverpool’s last three Premier League fixtures, Mané was bright and positive from the outset and caused full-back Andrey Eshchenko problems.
He supplied the assist for Coutinho’s equaliser – laying a perfectly-weighted return pass into the midfielder’s path – and was at the centre of everything good for Klopp’s side.
On another day he would have added at least one further assist with Salah the recipient of a defence-splitting pass on the hour which he should have tucked home. Mané hit the target with his only shot and completed five of the nine dribbles he attempted.
The forward had three chances after coming off the bench with 20 minutes remaining but, like the rest of his team-mates, was unable to work either of Spartak’s keepers on a frustrating night.
Brought on with 17 minutes to go, the Dutchman failed to add the spark Liverpool needed to bag all three points.