Liverpool ended their dire recent run with a confidence-boosting victory over RB Leipzig to give themselves a superb chance of reaching the last eight of the Champions League.
Playing the away leg in Budapest’s Puskas Arena because of Covid-19 restrictions, the Reds struck twice in five minutes near the start of the second half, in both cases following defensive errors from the German side.
Mohamed Salah showed superb awareness to quickly latch on to a loose back-pass before finishing neatly.
Sadio Mane was then equally alert to take advantage of a fluffed attempted clearance from Nordi Mukiele to charge through and side-foot past Peter Gulacsi.
In what had been a fast-paced match between two high-pressing sides, the Reds’ greater experience and quality had started to tell before the break.
However, they were fortunate not to fall behind inside five minutes when Dani Olmo’s header from an Angelino cross struck the base of the post.
Having managed the game well after going 2-0 up, Jurgen Klopp’s side will defend their advantage at Anfield on 10 March, when they will be firm favourites to go one round further than they managed last season.
Liverpool take first step on road to recovery
In the gap between their final group game and this, Liverpool’s season has imploded somewhat. Their long unbeaten domestic home record has come to an end, as has their challenge for this season’s FA Cup, and their last three league matches have ended in defeat – leading boss Jurgen Klopp to wave the white flag on their title defence.
Tuesday night, though, was a much-needed reminder of the qualities that drove them to that league win and the Champions League trophy the season before it.
Having survived Olmo’s early header, they grew into the game, wresting control away from Leipzig before shellshocking opponents who reached the semi-finals of this competition last year, saw off Manchester United in this season’s group stage and currently sit second in the Bundesliga.
The game was billed as master versus apprentice, one of Germany’s finest managerial exports of the modern era in Klopp up against the country’s – possibly the continent’s – brightest young thing in Julian Nagelsmann.
It showcased a shared DNA between two sides intent on playing on the front foot in enemy territory. Players charged forward when they had the ball and harried in a high press when they did not. Fire fought with fire.
It made for a frenetic and fascinating spectacle, which tested even the most lauded of defenders and forced them into errors, chief among them Bayern Munich-bound Dayot Upamecano, who repeatedly gave the ball away as Mane and Salah buzzed around him.
Despite having the better of the first half, applying the more consistent pressure and producing the greater number of chances, Klopp’s side were unable to get their noses in front.
In the space of 30 seconds, Salah saw an effort blocked by Gulacsi after he had darted in behind the Leipzig defence before Roberto Firmino fired into the side-netting from an angle.
Mane headed over another opportunity, Robertson was inches away from the beating the back-peddling Gulacsi with an effort from near halfway and Firmino had the ball in the net but only after the ball had gone out of play before being hooked back into the middle.
However, these were all forgotten before the hour mark was reached as the German side snapped and Salah and Mane took advantage.
Leipzig never fully recovered, their only real chance of salvaging anything to take to Merseyside being a shot from an angle that substitute Hwang Hee-chan pulled wide in added time.
It represents a big foot forward towards the quarter-finals for the Reds and a first step on the road to potentially reigniting their flagging season.
Klopp’s side leads the way for clean sheets – the stats
- Since Jurgen Klopp took charge of his first Champions League match at Liverpool in September 2017, the Reds have registered more clean sheets in the competition than any other side (18).
- RB Leipzig have managed only two clean sheets in their 11 home Champions League matches (W6 D2 L3) though this is their first such defeat since October 2019 against Lyon.
- Among all players within the top five European leagues this season, only Robert Lewandowski (30) has scored more goals in all competitions than Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (24).
- Salah has scored 24 goals in 34 matches in all competitions this season, surpassing his tally for the entirety of the 2019-20 campaign, in which he netted 23 times in 48 appearances.
- In Curtis Jones and Ozan Kabak (both 20), Liverpool named two players under the age of 21 in their starting XI for an Champions League knockout stage game for the second time, also doing so v Juventus in April 2005 (Scott Carson and Anthony le Tallec).
- Liverpool midfielder Thiago has now enjoyed a win in each of his past 11 Champions League appearances, the joint-longest run of wins by a Spaniard in the history of the competition alongside Javi Martinez (November 2020) and Dani Carvajal (April 2018).
- In what was his 114th appearance for Liverpool in all competitions, Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson registered his 50th clean sheet for the Reds, with only Jan Oblak (59) and Ederson (64) managing more among goalkeepers within the top five European leagues since he joined the Reds in 2018-19.
- English sides have now won each of their four European Cup/Champions League encounters to be played in Hungary, with Leeds United (in 1969 & 1974) and Liverpool (in 2009 and 2021) winning twice each.
- RB Leipzig against Liverpool was the first European Cup/Champions League knockout match to be played in Hungary in just under 30 years, since Budapest Honved beat Sampdoria 2-1 in the last 16 of the 1991-92 competition.
- 22MukieleBooked at 6minsSubstituted forOrbanat 64′minutes
- 44KamplSubstituted forHwang Hee-Chanat 73′minutes
- 8HaidaraBooked at 5minsSubstituted forPoulsenat 64′minutes
- 3AngelinoBooked at 65mins
- 25OlmoBooked at 76mins
- 18NkunkuBooked at 52mins
- 11Hwang Hee-Chan
- 19KabakBooked at 68mins
- 14HendersonBooked at 81mins
- 6Thiago AlcántaraSubstituted forOxlade-Chamberlainat 72′minutes
- 11SalahSubstituted forN Williamsat 90′minutes
- 9FirminoSubstituted forShaqiriat 72′minutes
- 46R Williams
- 76N Williams
Match ends, RB Leipzig 0, Liverpool 2.
Second Half ends, RB Leipzig 0, Liverpool 2.
Attempt missed. Hee-Chan Hwang (RB Leipzig) right footed shot from the right side of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Tyler Adams with a through ball.
Offside, Liverpool. Andrew Robertson tries a through ball, but Neco Williams is caught offside.
Substitution, Liverpool. Neco Williams replaces Mohamed Salah.
Foul by Xherdan Shaqiri (Liverpool).
Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Dayot Upamecano.
Attempt missed. Lukas Klostermann (RB Leipzig) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right.
Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Jordan Henderson (Liverpool).
Hee-Chan Hwang (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt missed. Angeliño (RB Leipzig) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Tyler Adams.
Attempt missed. Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left.
Foul by Xherdan Shaqiri (Liverpool).
Angeliño (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Sadio Mané (Liverpool) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Dani Olmo (RB Leipzig).
Sadio Mané (Liverpool) wins a free kick in the defensive half.