LIVERPOOL: Liverpool welcome Spartak Moscow to Anfield today knowing that they only need to avoid defeat to reach the last 16 of Champions League for the first time in nine years.
Victory for the five-time champions would also wrap up top spot in Group E. Jurgen Klopp’s men, who lead the group on nine points, should have secured qualification a fortnight ago, but blew a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 at Sevilla.
The Reds are bidding to banish the memories of three years ago when a 1-1 home draw with Basel sent them packing.
Russian champions Spartak have to win to have any chance of progressing. Sevilla only need to draw with Maribor in Slovenia to qualify for the knockout stage, and would go through as group winners if they win and Liverpool slip up.
Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp said defender Joel Matip could return from his muscle injury sooner than expected but ruled out the centre-back for today’s clash against Spartak.
Matip, one of Liverpool’s first-choice centre-backs, was expected to be sidelined for a month after picking up the injury in the club’s 3-0 Premier League win at Stoke City last week but Klopp is hoping the 26-year-old can make a quicker recovery.
“He has hurt his muscle. I don’t know how long exactly he’ll be out, but he’s definitely not playing Wednesday (today),” Klopp told the club’s website. (www.liverpoolfc.com)
“A month? No, I don’t think so. But as always, it’s possible. We have to wait.
“But it’s possible that it will be shorter. We will see.”
In Matip’s absence, midfielders Gini Wijnaldum and Emre Can were part of a three-man defence in Liverpool’s 5-1 league win over Brighton and Hove Albion last Saturday and Klopp praised the duo for their adaptability.
Meanwhile, with Manchester City already assured of top spot, Shakhtar Donetsk and Serie A high-flyers Napoli are fighting it out for second in Group F.
Shakhtar take on City in Ukraine and will qualify for the knockout rounds if they can end Pep Guardiola’s side’s 20-match winning streak.
Napoli head to pointless Feyenoord knowing that victory would see them snatch a ticket for the last 16 if Shakhtar lose to City, after their 3-0 victory over the Ukrainians last time out gave them the better head-to-head record.
Napoli, who lost their unbeaten start to the Italian season with a 1-0 defeat by Juventus on Friday, are looking to reach the last 16 for only the third time.