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By Pavle Gognidze
FC Spartak Moskva have a proud record to uphold against Liverpool FC but there are worrying signs for the Moscow side ahead of the UEFA Champions League Group B match on Tuesday.
Spartak may never have lost at home to English opposition but the way Liverpool dismantled Oleg Romantsev's side 5-0 at Anfield three weeks ago does not augur well. And only last season Liverpool consigned to history the statistic about an English club having never won in Ukraine when they defeated FC Dynamo Kyiv.
Moreover, Liverpool's 1-0 win at Leeds United AFC on Saturday extended a fine run which has left them top of the English Premiership and with just one defeat from their last 27 league matches. In the Champions League, they are level with FC Basel after taking four points from three matches - five points below group leaders Valencia CF but considerably better than Spartak's total of zero.
The win at Leeds led Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier to praise his side's growing maturity, saying they were "more composed and tactically mature now" than at the beginning of the season. However, he also insisted his players "will not get overconfident" when they take on Spartak.
Liverpool are missing Steven Gerrard, who injured a hip playing for England against F.Y.R. Macedonia last week, while Emile Heskey will have a late test on his groin problem after missing the Leeds match.
Worry over Kebe
Spartak have not won in 15 Champions League games and have dropped admission prices to try and counter falling attendances for both domestic and European matches. Although buoyed by a 4-0 cup victory over FC Uralan Elista, they remain without key defender Dmytro Parfionov and captain Yegor Titov, both injured, while another defender Moisés is suspended. There are also concerns over Senegalese midfield player Baye Kebe, who has missed recent matches due to depression brought on by the death of his relatives in a ferry tragedy in Senegal.
Among Romantsev's side are two survivors of their last meeting with the Merseysiders, in the 1992/93 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup - goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov and striker Vladimir Beschastnykh. Then Spartak won 4-2 in Moscow en route to a 6-2 aggregate success. While Houllier says this is "not a must-win game", he is doubtless expecting anything but a repeat of that result.
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