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Liverpool Escapes Leipzig, But This Was No Turning Point

Jurgen Klopp will breathe a sigh of relief on Wednesday night. Liverpool finally put away an indifferent RB Leipzig with a 2-0 win at the Puskás Aréna in Budapest, completing a 4-0 aggregate victory in the Champions League Round of 16. But this was far from a return to form for the defending Premier League champions, and it wasn’t the type of performance that will inspire a turning point in Liverpool’s season.

Liverpool’s Premier League form recently is nothing short of shocking. With eight league defeats since the new year, the Reds have five more losses in 2021 than they had in all of the prior season, when they finally ended their long title drought. The fact some of those defeats were to Southampton, Burnley, Brighton, Everton and Fulham is only more damning. 

But Liverpool has never been a club to let domestic failures get in the way of European success. Some of the club’s best moments came from teams who couldn’t sniff a league title. That unforgettable 2004-05 team finished fifth in the Prem before winning the Champions League. 

Currently, Liverpool sits at eighth in the EPL, seven points out of a Champions League spot. It will take a dramatic shift in form for the Reds to have a chance to qualify for next year’s competition; even the Europa League will be a challenge.

If Klopp was hoping for Wednesday’s “home” game in Budapest to be a turning point for the rest of the season, he won’t have been too thrilled with what he saw.

Embed from Getty Images

Just looking at the score line from the Round of 16, 4-0 looks like a pretty impressive victory. Considering European elites Juventus and Barcelona are already out of the competition, surviving and advancing is something to commend. But this was hardly an imposing performance from the six-time European champs.

Let’s remember, Liverpool won the first leg 2-0 thanks to two goals gifted by Leipzig, a team in Europe for just the fifth time. The result could have been far different had the Red Bulls not been profligate in front of goal.

In the second leg, Leipzig gave Liverpool countless opportunities to put the game away. Throughout the first half and into the second, the Reds forwards found themselves bearing down on goal with few white shirts in the area. It was as if Leipzig’s strategy was to push forward and assume Liverpool will choke on the break — and it almost worked.

For most of the match, Liverpool fluffed any and all chances. At one point, Diogo Jota had the ball on a five-on-two break. He could have used his pace to get to the byline with no one in front of him or cut back to find a teammate. Instead he passed it to a Leipzig player tracking back. At the end of the first half, Jota looked certain to score but hit his effort into the side netting with an empty net gaping.

Liverpool’s wastefulness was best exemplified by this counterattack that ended in Mohamed Salah hitting his shot straight at the keeper and Sadio Mané heading the rebound straight into the ground. 

Liverpool vs RB Leipzig Highlights (Second Leg)

Eventually, Liverpool did convert on the break — the law of averages dictated the Reds score at least one. It was Salah who put the tie away with a clean finish to the near post.

Four minutes later, Mané made it 2-0 on the night, 4-0 on aggregate, essentially ending the contest.

Liverpool’s performance picked up by the two goals, either buoyed by the fact they finally stopped wasting chances or only relatively better after Leipzig players realized they had no chance of a comeback. 

Leipzig never could mount much of an attack to get back in the game, despite pouring numbers forward. Klopp can be pleased with his team’s resilience at the back; Alisson only had to be on his toes a few times, including when Red Bulls hit the post with a header. But Liverpool’s inability to impose itself on a team that never looked comfortable will ensure more sleepless nights in the future for Klopp. 

Then again, Liverpool fans will always find a reason to believe. If any team can shrug off domestic failures to achieve European success, it’s Liverpool.

Survive and advance.

Full Match Liverpool vs RB Leipzig Highlights (Second Leg, March 10, 2021)

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