Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool put Spartak Moscow to the sword on Wednesday night with an unremitting display of attacking football.
Philippe Coutinho, captain for the night, was the standout player for the home side and his excellent hat-trick sprinkled an otherwise commanding midfield display with Brazilian magic.
He was supported by the offensive talents of compatriot Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and the club’s top scorer Mohamed Salah, all of whom got in on the act as Liverpool secured top spot in Group E.
“If we perform like this tonight, if we are that clinical, then yes,” said Klopp when asked if his side could threaten in the latter stages Europe’s premier competition.
Despite topping their group, they could face a tough test in the last 16 as some European heavyweights only managed a second-placed finish in their respective groups.
Real Madrid, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Basel, Shakhtar and Porto are all potential opponents in the next round, but Klopp believes that these teams will not be happy should they draw Liverpool.
“I think it’s strange this year in the group stages, there are a lot of really strong teams in second place,” said the German.
“Obviously all the teams in the last 16 are strong but this year is quite special. It’s not often you can face Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Juve if you win your group. But I don’t think anyone is happy when they get us in the draw.”
Liverpool are the competition’s second-highest goalscorers with 23 from six games, just behind the expensively assembled stars of Paris Saint-Germain, who racked up 25 goals in the group stage.
The seven they scored against Spartak will send shockwaves throughout Europe as their four attacking players showed they can cause trouble for any defence.
Coutinho opened the scoring from the penalty spot after Georgi Dzhikiya was adjudged to have fouled Salah. The Brazilian added a second following a devastating counter-attack involving Mane, Salah and Firmino, before Firmino pounced on a defensive error following Mane’s centre to make it three.
Mane volleyed home a precise cross from substitute James Milner in the second half, and Coutinho was bagging his hat-trick minutes later after great work down the left with Firmino.
Salah made sure he got in on the act with a well taken effort with five minutes to go as Klopp’s charges sent out a warning, not just to Europe, but to the Premier League too ahead of Sunday’s Merseyside derby.