RB Leipzig 0 Liverpool 2
It was a night when Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool could savour the release of Champions League football. With their confidence at a low ebb after a grisly run on the domestic front – the form guide showed just three wins for them in 12 matches – they had travelled for the away leg of this last 16 tie in Budapest under intense pressure. How they made light of it.
This was a performance more in keeping with the ones that had made them such feared opposition prior to their shock downturn; the hustle was there and so was the focus and precision. Importantly, the errors that have undermined them of late were not. Instead, they belonged to RB Leipzig.
There was a big moment at the start of the second-half when Alisson, who had suffered more than any Liverpool player in the previous two games – the Premier League defeats against Manchester City and Leicester – raced off his line to thwart Christopher Nkunku in a one-on-one.
Liverpool were ruthless at the other end. As Leipzig erred, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané meted out the punishment and, if their league title defence is over, this was the night when they ignited a push for further glory in Europe’s elite competition.
Julian Nagelsmann wants Leipzig to attack from all angles and an ultra-fluid starting formation, which did not feature a recognised centre forward, rather two floating attacking midfielders up top in Dani Olmo and Christopher Nkunku, was designed to enable that. With the wing backs, Tyler Adams and Angelino, pushed high, especially the latter, Liverpool were subjected to an early burst of pressure.
There was a let-off when Angelino crossed for Olmo at the end of an incisive move and his header came back off the inside of the post before bouncing to safety. It was difficult to tell whether Alisson had got his fingertips to it. But Liverpool settled into a groove after the first 10 minutes or so, bringing a high tempo to their game in the first-half.
They worked hard without the ball, quick to close down their opponents and pinch back possession but it was when they had it that they offered encouragement. They showed that Leipzig could look vulnerable with passes in behind their backline, with Trent Alexander-Arnold ever alert to playing them.
It was Alexander-Arnold who set Salah away with a lovely through ball on 15 minutes for Liverpool’s best chance of the first period. Salah was one-on-one with Peter Gulacsi but the former Liverpool goalkeeper, who never made a senior appearance for the club, was off his line to block the attempted dink. Roberto Firmino blasted into the side net on the second phase.
Liverpool headed for the interval with their tails up, having hogged the ball, pushed Leipzig back and advertised the opening goal. They had looked dangerous in the transitions, especially when they won the ball high up, which they came to show they could do. The Leipzig centre half, Dayot Upamecano, who will join Bayern Munich in the summer,´ was caught out on a couple of occasions and he was not the only one.
Mané headed high after a Firmino cross while Mané almost got onto an Andy Robertson clip over the top; Gulacsi was quick out of his area to deny him. Robertson stepped up to win the ball back and he sent an audacious chip over the backpedalling goalkeeper from 40 yards. It sailed just too high, with Gulacsi ending up in the back of the net.
Liverpool could also point to the moment when Mané stole the ball from Upamecano on the byline to tee up Firmino for a header into an empty net. Luckily for Leipzig, Mané got to the ball a fraction too late; replays showed that it had narrowly crossed the byline.
It was an engrossing tie, with Leipzig almost taking the lead at the start of the second half when Olmo ushered in Nkunku. Jordan Henderson, who continued as a makeshift centre half, was exposed but out came Alisson to make a big block. Liverpool immediately turned the screw, with Leipzig left to lament not one but two defensive disasters. It felt as if they had been coming, with too many players in white and red strangely loose.
The breakthrough came when Marcel Sabitzer tried to play a back pass to Lukas Klostermann, the last man, only to get it all wrong. He succeeded only in finding Salah, who was left to run through with only Gulacsi to beat. The finish was ice-cool and so was that of Mané moments later. This time it had been Nordi Mukiele losing the flight of a high ball forward by Curtis Jones and lunging to retrieve it only to air-kick. Mané never looked like blowing the one-on-one. _ Guardian