Liverpool have returned to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over RB Leipzig, sending Jurgen Klopp‘s side through to the Champions League quarter-finals.
Liverpool 2-0 RB Leipzig (4-0 agg)
Champions League Last 16 Second Leg, Puskas Arena
March 10, 2021
Goals: Salah 70′ Mane 74′
New game, new pair
Eight Champions League games this season for Liverpool, eight central defensive duos.
It’s quite incredible that these new pairings have been required with such regularity, and at the start of the season if we’d suggested Klopp would line up with Nat Phillips and a loan signing in a European knockout game, questions would have been asked of our collective state of mind.
Individually, they both were quick in the challenge and strong in the air. On the ball, Phillips’ progression in particular was very evident.
As a pair, there’s still a tendency to drop off when the other doesn’t – Andy Robertson is guilty of this too in a mixed-up back four – but they supported and covered each other well on a few occasions and were both always available for the pass.
With Fabinho returning in style in midfield, have we found the pair which could provide a domestic rebuilding platform for the rest of this season?
Fab in the middle
It took all of about three minutes for Fabinho‘s presence at the heart of the team to be noticed, as he started putting a foot in to win small tackles, was in the right place to pick up loose passes and was always, always first to the second ball.
Gini has been phenomenal for us this term, for both availability and not dropping miles below his best level, but having the world’s finest No. 6 back in that actual position makes…well, the same difference as it will make having Virgil back.
Leipzig simply couldn’t get past him in the middle; even with lofted passes he seemed to have that sixth sense of where to be and how much to stretch to intercept.
Alisson‘s big save early on requires a nod of appreciation too – that’s the defensive diamond all putting in big performances.
Did we spy…creativity?!
Knock-on effect of Fabinho? Confidence at being away from Anfield? Confidence at being outside the Premier League? Appreciating the space left by Leipzig attacking? Or something else entirely?
Whatever the underlying reason – more probably a combination of multiple factors – there’s no denying that Liverpool actually created a whole host of scoring chances this time.
In half an hour, the tie should have been over: Jota, Mane, Thiago, Trent and Mo all had sights of goal, either saved or simply not taken. Jota again should have buried one right on the break.
And it was a mix of chance-types, too: set-pieces, counter-attacks, turnovers after high pressing and even just a couple of normal, open-play passes around the box to open space.
It has been missed so much domestically – and thank goodness we had, eventually, the end product to go with it.
Champions League chances
Porto, Dortmund, PSG and Liverpool – that’s half the last eight decided.
At this stage it would be foolish to both envisage success in Istanbul. It has been suggested that last time we won in that city, we had a worse side.
Fair, but in Carra and Sami we also had an established, experienced, rock-solid partnership at the back – with respect to Nat and Ozan, who were great this time out, there’s a big difference between going up against Alexander Sorloth and Erling Haaland. Or City’s revolving cast.
We’re in the last eight, which is further than the Reds went last season, so that’s a positive to take all by itself – and we’re there on merit.
Over the two legs, Liverpool could have won this tie about 8-3 with more clinical finishing at either end.
Even before worrying about the quarter-final draw, there’s a bigger issue at stake…
Wolves and a break
Could it possibly be that this has come at just the right time? If, if the Reds can follow up this victory with a win over Wolves, we’ve then got a three-week break.
That time would be much better spent in a more relaxed frame of mind having won back-to-back games than if our season was essentially over.
But just like beating Sheffield United didn’t make us ‘back’, nor does this victory – consistency was everything last year, and that’s what we must rediscover once more.
Wolves aren’t exactly in-form themselves, with three without a win recently, but we’ll still likely have to grind it out rather more than we did this evening against an expansive, attack-minded side who needed to go on the front foot anyway.
Baby steps, at this point, rather than getting carried away. But a win is a win and by Fowler we’ll take it – and look forward to the next round draw.