Thursday 14 December, 2017

Coutinho scores 3, Liverpool rout Spartak 7-0 in CL

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, left, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Champions League Group E football match against Spartak Moscow at Anfield, Liverpool, England, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, left, celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Champions League Group E football match against Spartak Moscow at Anfield, Liverpool, England, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017.

Philippe Coutinho scored a hat trick as Liverpool thrashed Spartak Moscow 7-0 on Wednesday to clinch first place in its Champions League group and become the fifth English team to qualify for the last 16.

Handed the captain's armband four months after asking to leave the club, Coutinho led Liverpool's dismantling of Spartak with two goals in the opening 15 minutes before his completing his first hat trick for the Reds in the 50th.

Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane (2) and Mohamed Salah got the other goals as Liverpool won 7-0 for the second time in Group E and topped it by three points from second-place Sevilla. Spartak finish in third place and dropped into the Europa League.

It is the first time a country has had five representatives in the knockout stage of Europe's top club competition, signaling a revival by the English after years of underachievement since Chelsea was European champion in 2012.

Liverpool was one of four English teams to top a group, along with Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham.

A day after CSKA Moscow was eliminated with a loss at United, city rival Spartak needed a win elsewhere in the northwest of England to have a chance to advancing. Naive defending put paid to those hopes and Coutinho was Liverpool's conductor.

The Brazil playmaker started the season in dispute with the Liverpool after the club refused to sell him to Barcelona following repeated bids by the Spanish team.

The fact that he was handed the armband by coach Juergen Klopp is a sign of the reconciliation between the two parties, even though speculation continues about a renewed bid by Barcelona in January. Liverpool fans are just enjoying him while they can.

Coutinho's haul started when he stroked home a penalty after Georgi Dzhikiya tugged Salah in the penalty area. Liverpool had failed to score its last four penalties at Anfield, including attempts by Firmino and James Milner in the Champions League.

Coutinho completed a team move involving Mane, Salah and Firmino with a low left-foot finish into the corner to make it 2-0 in the 15th, and more dreadful defending led to a third goal three minutes later.

Mane pounced on a mistake by Dzhikiya, ran up the right wing and sent in a cross that Spartak defender Serdar Tasci could only block with his chest. Firmino raced onto the loose ball and curled home a shot with the outside of his right foot.

Liverpool squandered a three-goal lead with a second-half collapse at Sevilla two weeks ago, which cost them a chance to clinch first place with a round to spare, but there was to be no repeat here.

Milner, on as a substitute, crossed from the left for Mane to meet with a fierce volley past goalkeeper Aleksandr Selikhov in the 47th.

Coutinho completed his hat trick three minutes later by firing in a shot that deflected off Salvatore Bocchetti and flew inside the near post, leaving Selikhov wrong-footed.

Mane bundled in substitute Daniel Sturridge's cross for the sixth and Salah, the Premier League's top scorer, got in on the act in the 86th with some great footwork and a finish high into the net.

The negatives for Liverpool were the yellow card for Emre Can, which rules him out of the first leg of the last 16, and a first-half injury to left back Alberto Moreno that could force him out of the Merseyside derby against Everton on Sunday.