Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp accepts there are no guarantees his side will progress to the knockout stages of the Champions League despite the odds being stacked in their favour.
A draw at home to Spartak Moscow in their final group match would be enough to put them through, while a win would ensure they top the table but Klopp is taking nothing for granted.
Three years ago they needed to win at home to Basel to progress but a draw dropped Brendan Rodgers’ side into the Europa League and the current Reds boss is keen for the focus to avoid any slip-ups after conceding a three-goal half-time lead in Seville last time out saw them miss out on early qualification.
He would not even let more questions about Philippe Coutinho’s future – “not one second have I thought about it” – or Sunday’s looming Merseyside derby deflect from the task at hand.
“We are only part of the Champions League because we want to go to the next round,” he said as Liverpool look to make the knockout stage for the first time since 2009.
“All good and bad things that happened in the Champions League – mostly good – has brought us to this situation and if we win we are through and that is cool.
“I know a lot of people might think we should be already through but that’s not life, it is not ‘if’ and ‘when’ it is about the moment.
“Spartak could say the same as they gave away four points against Maribor so they would be in a different situation.
“We are stronger than we were when we played them but they are stronger as well, in a good moment in the league, and they have some very important offensive players back so it will be an exciting game.
“You don’t have guarantees in life but if you don’t try all you get nothing so let’s try all and we will see where it leads us to.”
Klopp insists he will play his strongest team despite Sunday’s derby at home to an Everton side buoyed by the appointment of new permanent manager Sam Allardyce.
That starting XI is likely to include playmaker Coutinho, who continues to be surrounding by speculation of a renewed bid from Barcelona after the Catalan club’s failure to sign him in the summer.
Klopp is also optimistic of having Ragnar Klavan and Joe Gomez back to bolster his defence, while forward Sadio Mane is expected to return after being rested at the weekend
Both were ill last week with the former barely fit enough for Saturday’s 5-1 win at Brighton and Gomez not even making the squad.
“They are much better. They were in training yesterday and I expect them in training today. Ragnar and Joe are back – Joel Matip not and Adam Lallana not,” he said.
Spartak coach Massimo Carrera insists his side does not fear the Premier League side.
Only victory can secure passage to the knockout stage for the Russian club but their European record – combined with the Reds’ home form – makes it a tough ask at Anfield.
Although Spartak have lost just once in 19 matches, they have won only six of their last 40 Champions League games and not registered a European away victory since beating Ajax 1-0 in the Europa League in March 2011.
Add to that the fact Liverpool, the competition’s second-highest scorers heading into the final round of matches, have not lost at home since April and are unbeaten in 12 European games at Anfield – in a run dating back to October 2014 when Real Madrid were victorious – and the stakes are even higher for the visitors.
“We are aware that we are up against a very strong opponent,” Carrera told his pre-match press conference.
“We will try to break Liverpool down and try to stick to our gameplan to cause them problems. We know how much experience Liverpool have in competitions like these.
“We’re going to face great players with a great atmosphere inside the squad. We will face a very strong team, but we respect the opponent and the fans of Liverpool.
“We respect them, but we don’t fear them. We have good players of our own.
“It’s a big game for us tomorrow. We will see what happens.”
The former Juventus, Atalanta and Italy defender gave his side the best chance of victory by resting key forward Quincy Promes at the weekend in order for him to be fresh for this challenge.
Holland international Promes was injured for their Moscow meeting back in September but his eight goals in 16 matches this season make him the visitors’ main threat.
Carrera also has other attacking options available with Ze Luis and Luiz Adriano in contention to start.