That is the Liverpool Football Club we know and love.
After a difficult period, it is great to have that winning feeling again. It was a display that was beyond what any Liverpool fan would have expected going into this difficult Champions League clash with last season’s semi-finalists.
The Reds performance had everything. Pace, power, intensity, great communication and some composure to top it off. This isn’t to say that they were perfect. They missed their fair share of chances, Salah and Firmino missing key opportunities in the first half, but it was significantly better than anything we have witnessed in the last couple of months.
It looked like the Liverpool of old, pressing their opponents high and forcing them into error after error. Upamecano – after his €42 million pre contract agreement and transfer to Bayern Munich was confirmed – had an absolute nightmare at the back in particular. The pressure put upon the French international, constricted his world class ability and forced him into several mistakes throughout the evening. He probably ended up completing more passes to Liverpool players than his own teammates.
The way Klopp’s side went about their business in this first leg was excellent, a fully professional and polished display. With two away goals and the second leg at Anfield, many will feel that the tie is nearly done. However, Henderson and co will not take this for granted and will look to produce a similar display in three weeks’ time on Merseyside.
Returning to the start of the evening, Klopp knew that realistically this was now the only trophy available to his side this season. Despite this, the poor form suggested that this could be as far as the Reds would go, with Leipzig arriving in the Hungarian capital with an impressive run of results behind them.
Knowing this, the Liverpool manager set out to exploit the Nagelsmann game plan with the high press that would pressure his side into going consistently long or by forcing them into mistakes at the back. With the Reds front three well known for taking advantage of this kind of tactic, the Germans had to be precise if they were going to survive. They didn’t manage to.
Despite the impressive start – with Dani Olmo striking the post after two minutes – it all went down hill from there, as Klopp’s side produced some scintillating European football to nullify Leipzig’s strengths and maximise their own Champions League experience. Several chances would present themselves to the front three, but all would miss leaving many wondering if it would come back to bite Klopp’s side again. Luckily this time it wasn’t the case.
Instead, the missed opportunities drove the Anfield outfit on, discovering some new found energy after the interval. The discipline involved in the high press continued and they would reap their rewards in the 53rd minute. Marcel Sabitzer was forced into an erratic pass by Roberto Firmino, playing Mohammed Salah clean through on the Leipzig goal. He took full advantage, dispatching the ball past former Red, Péter Gulácsi.
With an away goal secured, Nagelsmann’s side pushed forward looking for a root back into the game, instead they caused their own downfall as they fell further behind in the tie. After Curtis Jones had cleared the ball, Sadio Mané pounced on the mistake by Nordi Mukiele as he ran clean through and confidently stroked the ball into the bottom corner.
With game management needed for the remaining 30 minutes, the Reds went about their business in a supremely professional manner, as Henderson, Kabak and Alisson produced fine pieces of work to keep the German side at bay and hold onto that valuable two goal advantage.
As the final whistle blew, it was nothing short of what the performance deserved and fans will hope that they can finish the job when Leipzig visit Anfield. With a Merseyside derby up next, this was the perfect confidence booster for the side. With Everton producing some impressive performances of their own, this will be an interesting game for all who decide to tune in on Saturday evening. Hopefully, the Reds can come out on top with a similar performance that they have produced in this game.
Klopp made one change from the side defeated by Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. Thiago Alcântara rested momentarily on Saturday, returned to the starting line-up with James Milner now back on the treatment table following a hamstring injury.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Jordan HendersonEmbed from Getty Images
The Reds skipper once again found himself at the back, but arguably put in his best performance to date in this position. His no nonsense, direct approach worked a treat, whilst his leadership was clear for all to hear during the broadcast of the game, barking his orders out to his team; making sure everyone did their job in the press.
His partnership with Kabak – after looking great for 78 minutes against Leicester – flourished against Leipzig, who struggled to manufacture any chances against either centre half. From Henderson’s point of view, he will be extremely proud of the job he did against Dani Olmo who – after the second minute scare he gave – went missing, Henderson shepherding him out of the game at every opportunity. His creativity is a major influence in the German outfit but the England international made sure he couldn’t be expansive in any way.
His constant encouragement towards his goalkeeper as well was great to see. After a couple of dodgy games, Alisson was looking for some guidance. Henderson did all he could to settle his shot stoppers nerves by giving him an option every time he received the ball. The majority of the time, the Brazilian would direct it towards the Liverpool captain but that is why he was there. As time went by the goalkeeper’s confidence increased and that was all down to Henderson’s selfless play earlier in the game.
With a Merseyside derby up next for the side, Klopp will know how imperative a good Jordan Henderson performance is to his team’s chances of winning. If he performs at the level that he was at in this game, then I believe that he and Liverpool will have no problems dealing with the threat that Everton pose.
Ozan KabakEmbed from Getty Images
Man of the match and in imperious form at the back. His speed and power were too much for the German side, whilst he looked to advance play at every opportunity with his adventuring runs forward. After two games, the signs are looking quite positive for the on-loan Schalke defender.
Coming up against a Bundesliga side who he had faced several times in the past, Kabak will have known the task that awaited him at the Puskas Arena. With Christopher Nkunku in particular causing him troubles in the past, he knew that he had to be fully on his game to get a positive result for his side. He responded by staying touch tight with the Leipzig forward and never letting him out of his sight.
He bullied the former PSG player, that much so that when Kabak won another battle against him in the 80th minute, Nkunku looked to Yussuf Poulsen and mouthed “what can I do”. The dominant centre half was stunning to watch and now has many Liverpool fans excited with what he can produce for the remainder of the campaign.
A feature I wanted to touch upon again that I believe will be key to his success at Anfield will be his pace. He briefly showed this at the King Power on Saturday against Vardy, but in Budapest his rapid defensive runs and in his explosive offensive manoeuvres, he looked powerful and unstoppable. At 20-years-old, he is only going to get bigger and better as he learns the English and European game.
With Henderson alongside him, this partnership is paramount to the success of the club in the Champions League this season. As much as he looked comfortable in Europe’s premier club competition, his success domestically in the Premier League will be interesting to see week on week. With Everton up next, we will really see what he is about and whether he will be a long-term solution in defence.
Mohamed SalahEmbed from Getty Images
The Egyptian was once again producing on the biggest stage, continuing his stunning goalscoring campaign in the process. This strike puts him within four goals of this season becoming his second most prolific in a Liverpool shirt which – considering the Reds injury troubles and poor form – is truly outstanding.
He was a thorn in Leipzig’s side all night, causing problems all over the pitch, offensively and defensively, giving Nagelsmann a headache on how to counter his brilliance. The German manager had nothing to slow his momentum and massive influence on the game.
He was on it from the first whistle and, down the right alongside Alexander-Arnold, caused problems throughout the evening. Klopp needed the Egyptian to get in behind the German outfit’s backline as much as possible and he found this easier than a Champions League knockout game should have been.
His best chance in the first half was inches from giving the Reds the lead, but his lofted effort was brilliantly denied by Péter Gulácsi. His determined demeanour screamed that he wouldn’t be denied again and when his second opportunity arrived, he was clinical. He punished the poor Sabitzer back pass with a confident strike into the bottom right corner to give the Reds a lead; something they didn’t look like relinquishing for the reminder of the game.
His goals have arguably kept the Reds afloat and hidden many of the struggles until recently. Now that a complete team performance has come together, and with his own form back to normal, many will expect several more goals and similar displays from the 28-year-old for the remainder of the campaign.
LosersEmbed from Getty Images
Considering the recent run of form and negativity around said results, I am going to keep the positive trend going with no losers. It was an impressive display by everyone involved, who each individually contributed something major to the positive result in Budapest.
The Champions League is synonymous with the Reds, and now with the competition arguably Klopp’s number one priority for the remainder of the season, there is hope that number seven can somehow find its way into Jordan Henderson’s hands.
With eight of the starting eleven against Leipzig, part of the Reds Champions League winning side in 2019 – whilst Thiago won the title last season with Bayern Munich – there is plenty of European experience in that team to have a good run at the crown. As unlikely as it may be due to all of the injuries, I wouldn’t count Liverpool out ever.
The special moments associated with the club will always loom large over opponents – especially when they come to play at Anfield – and we can hope that this team can produce further European miracles in this difficult season thus far.
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