Coutinho hits hat-trick as Liverpool rout Spartak to top group

Needing a win over Spartak Moscow to reach the knockouts the Reds earned a 7-0 victory

Needing a win over Spartak Moscow to reach the knockouts the Reds earned a 7-0 victory

Fine margins have played a part in their most iconic European moments, where late strikes were regularly required to tip the balance of power back in their favour. Perhaps it is for the best.

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) - Four months after asking to leave Liverpool, Philippe Coutinho scored a hat trick wearing the captain's armband to propel the club into the Champions League knockout stage on a record-setting night for English soccer.

"But the big tests are yet to come for Liverpool".

Liverpool are no longer reliant on the abilities of a lone talisman.

They doubled their advantage after a superb move 11 minutes later, Coutinho tapping home from Roberto Firmino's pass.

Liverpool have made a formal complaint to Uefa after striker Rhian Brewster was the victim of alleged racial abuse by a Spartak Moscow player during today's game between the clubs. Since a chastening defeat to Tottenham in October, they have now scored 32 times in nine games.

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.

Coutinho opened the scoring after just four minutes from the penalty spot after Mohamed Salah was fouled by Georgi Dzhikiya. Sadio Mane began the attack on the halfway line, feeding the ever-active Salah, who slotted the ball out wide to Firmino.

Few have been able to out-score Liverpool in this year's competition, with only Paris Saint-Germain now able to boast superiority to Liverpool's cumulative group stage tally of 23.

"Clearly they're beating these so-called lesser teams, and the same in the Premier League".

Loris Karius, continuing his run in Europe, was not without occasional work, first denying Luiz Adriano and later saving comfortably from Quincy Promes.

Imbalance, however, remains Liverpool's greatest weakness. Spartak barely had chance to reorganise before Liverpool's attacking foursome were wreaking havoc again.

That means that they will avoid Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Roma - but could still land the likes of Bayern Munich, Juventus and Real Madrid.

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