We won a football match at home. Well, kind of.
In a fixture that had so much relying on it – with this competition now the Reds main focus – they turned up to produce an uplifting performance that will shake off some of the doubts that have built up during the poor Premier League run.
This Champions League campaign is the shining light in a disappointing season. As much as Liverpool have been poor throughout the campaign, they have turned up for every European night and – with the plethora of experience within the squad and the special affiliation the club have with this competition – few would bet against Klopp’s side challenging for number seven.
A return to domestic matters awaits on Monday against a tough Wolves team at Molineux. The pressures that have seen the Reds drop from first to eighth since the New Year, will once again be back on them. A performance similar to this display against the Bundesliga side will be needed if they are going to take three points back to Anfield.
Returning to the events at the Puskás Aréna – with two away goals already to their name from the first leg – Klopp’s side went into the evenings game with some confidence at holding that lead. However, as has been the fragile nature of this Reds team, some fans may have doubted the Reds chances of progressing to the next round.
Supporters who doubted shouldn’t have been worried, as surprisingly, Julian Nagelsmann’s set up in the same way they did in the first leg and suffered the consequences for continuing to be bold. This game could have been 5-0 and that isn’t exaggerating one bit. If any of the Reds forwards had any sort of confidence in front of goal, this would have been a cricket score; thoroughly embarrassing their opponents in the process. Instead, careless finishing littered the Liverpool display that kept the German side interested in the tie until the final 20 minutes.
In the first half the question on everyone’s lips was: who is going to score? Mané, Salah, Jota, Thiago and Alexander-Arnold all missed key chances that had Klopp flabbergasted and cursing his luck once again. Many fans would have been stunned to see the kind of chances that were missed, whilst cumulatively each woeful finish told the story of how this poor finishing has hindered the Reds over the last three months. With every chance missed by Liverpool, you just wondered whether Leipzig would go down the other end and take advantage.
To the relief of Klopp and all Liverpool fans, the Reds finishing touch returned at just the right time. After Jota and Salah had both missed a further glaring chance apiece, the duo would team up to give their side a deserved lead and finish the contest for good. After receiving the ball in their own half, a swift counter-attack founds its way to Diogo Jota at the edge of the Leipzig box. After finding Salah in space, the Egyptian beautifully cut inside – bypassing the once again underperforming Upamecano – before placing the ball into the bottom right corner.
With the life sucked out of Nagelsmann’s men, they promptly conceded a second goal four minutes later. After Klopp brought on Naby Keïta and Divock Origi, the pair combined to set up Sadio Mané, who tapped home the Belgians cross from close range. The goals for Salah and Mané where thoroughly needed, with both clearly lacking their normal ruthlessness over the last few months. It was great to see both get on the score sheet and hopefully both can now kick on for the remainder of the season.
With the Reds seeing out the game comfortably in the final 15 minutes – with some perfect game management – Klopp’s side now look forward towards another Champions League Quarter-Final. Despite the struggles domestically, Liverpool are a dangerous team in European competition and no one will want to be pulled out the hat alongside them in a weeks’ time.
Klopp made five changes from the side beaten by Fulham on Sunday afternoon. Kabak, Alexander-Arnold, Thiago, Fabinho and Mané all returned to the starting line-up, with Rhys Wiliams, Neco Williams, Milner, Keïta and Shaqiri all dropping to the bench.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
FabinhoEmbed from Getty Images
An absolute colossus in midfield and my man of the match. After months in the defence – and performing unbelievably well in the process – the Brazilian returned to his natural position and was to force to be reckoned with. I don’t think he put a foot wrong all evening. This surely will mean the Brazilian now will remain in midfield for the remainder of the season bar any more defensive injuries.
If you where to argue that Fabinho is the best number six in the world, just show anyone against that statement the highlights of this game. Every tackle he won, every header he won, interceptions galore and a calm and composed passing game that was beautiful to watch.
He is that good in his position he made the players around him play and look better as a knock-on effect. Thiago was free from the shackles of the number six role and dictated play wonderfully further forward, whilst Wijnaldum was allowed to roam and effect the game at a higher point on the pitch. The midfield combination was wonderful to watch and surely will be the go-to for the foreseeable.
At this moment in time, Fabinho is arguably Liverpool’s best player as his consistently good performances from defence throughout the difficult period, have been overshadowed somewhat by the bad results. Now that he can return to the familiar surroundings of the centre circle, he can impact the game in a greater way and this is extremely promising for Klopp’s side.
Nathaniel PhillipsEmbed from Getty Images
Champions League debut in a crunch European tie. Absolutely no problem for big Nat Phillips. The centre-half took his no nonsense play into the Champions League and it worked a treat against the Bundesliga side, who had no response to the straight forward approach he brought.
Yussuf Poulsen didn’t have a look in all evening, especially after the early clash of heads with the Reds centre half. After that moment, the Danish striker didn’t fancy the battle, as Phillips literally smashed through him at every opportunity. The Englishman had the focus and intensity that the game needed. I wouldn’t put it past him to run through a brick wall if Klopp asked him to do it.
He could have easily been man of the match, and for many people, he was. For me he was just pipped by Fabinho, due to the couple of mistakes he made early in the game, but the fact he was under consideration just shows how amazing he was during the evening.
He was an absolute juggernaut at the back. His performances in the last few weeks have seen him gain valuable game time, and with this, has increased his confidence. His belief looks like it peaked against RB Leipzig, with Klopp now trusting the 23-year-old completely alongside Ozan Kabak. With this trust came the return to midfield for Fabinho, and as I explained before, this improved the team tenfold.
Thiago AlcântaraEmbed from Getty Images
Since his arrival from Bayern Munich, Thiago’s time at Anfield has been a big stop start due to COVID and injuries. When eventually getting a run in the side, the injuries suffered by the wider squad and the consistently changing starting eleven, heaped further pressure on him to lead this team, which at the start of his Liverpool career he has tried to wrestle with every matchday. In this second leg against RB Leipzig, we saw the proper Thiago Alcântara.
Many fans had come to the conclusion that they would likely see the best from the Spanish international next season, when all of the Reds major players returned from injury. With Fabinho in defence, he was tasked to play that number six role which he had played before. However, his strengths lie ahead of this position and most recently at Bayern Munich he has dictated play beautifully from behind the forwards.
Now for the first time in his Liverpool career, he was able to play in this position and how he flourished. On any other day he would have had a hat-trick of assists and even a goal to his name. However, due to the current form of the front three he was denied this when giving out the opportunities.
Throughout his 75-minute display he was practically flawless, floating around the pitch without breaking sweat. His highlight was his karate kick like pass to put Salah clean through on goal, which unfortunately was subsequently missed by the Egyptian. This was his best game to date in a Liverpool shirt and it was a pleasure to watch him play this way. Hopefully, we will see him in this role for the rest of his time at Anfield.
Andrew RobertsonEmbed from Getty Images
For the losers spot I could have easily chosen Jota, Salah or Mané due to the number of chances they missed in the first hour of the game, some proving to be the easiest the Reds have mustered in several weeks, but the trio either put them wide or straight at the keeper. In the end, each contributed something substantial to the positive result in the end with goals and assists respectively. This has saved the trio from this column.
Unfortunately, this slot then is filled by the Scottish international who really had a sub-par game for his normally extraordinarily high standards. Poor displays from the left-back really have been a common theme over the last month or so, as he struggles with the lack of forward activity, whilst his defensive work has been unexpectedly poor.
On the eve of his birthday, it was not the way he will have wanted to enter his special day. His communication with Ozan Kabak clearly needs work and that will come with time, whilst his defensive work against Tyler Adams wasn’t the greatest, as the American international regularly got the better of him in their duels.
I haven’t got any worries about Robertson. In the early stages of Liverpool’s poor run, he was the one who was dragging this team along. Now with him going through a poor patch, it’s time his teammates reciprocated and helped him rediscover his best.
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