Liverpool 2-0 RB Leipzig: Reds shine on the continent to ensure progression
(Photo by Peter Zador/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Liverpool progressed to the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the third time in four seasons with a 2-0 win over RB Leipzig on the night, with an aggregate score of 4-0. 

The Reds' 'home' victory came in the same arena as that of their first leg away tie in the Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary; 1,300 miles away from Merseyside due to Germany's coronavirus protocols. 

The tie should have been a formality in the first period, a multitude of opportunities passing Jurgen Klopp's side by as victory was not sealed until the last twenty minutes through out-of-form pairing Mo Salah and Sadio Mane.

In truth, it was the most composed Liverpool had looked since their last encounter with the German side three weeks ago and will serve to act as a much-needed morale booster in light of six defeats in eight outings prior to kick-off.

  • Story of the match

Liverpool came out of the blocks with good intent on the ball, specifically from the likes of Gini Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara that was facilitated by Fabinho's role as a defensive midfielder.

The former two were awarded with the license to roam up the pitch and was the most involved the Spaniard has been in quite some time; displaying deft ball control along with a chance to bulge the net himself, instead electing to direct a pass to Mo Salah which never reached its intended receiver.

Alisson imposed his presence in one of few chances for Leipzig to make the tie interesting early on, coming out of his six-yard area to block Dani Olmo's  swiped effort. 

Diogo Jota made the most of Lukas Klostermann's mistimed jump from a corner and forced a decent save from Peter Gulasci, while other end Thiago covered well for a flailing Alisson attempting to retrieve a cross from Kevin Kampl

An acrobatic scissored pass from Thiago reached Salah in plenty of room and set the winger on his way towards goal, but the resulting effort was comfortable enough for Gulasci, nothing doing for his Senegalese partner on the follow up.

Trent Alexander-Arnold fell in line with the narrative of the half by squandering his own chance, finding the ball in a dangerous amount of room while bearing down on goal but his cut back was cleared well by Dayot Upamecano.

Emile Forsberg, making his 50th European appearance, dragged his effort past the left side of Alisson's goal and wide after making the most of the ball deflecting off a helpless Ozan Kabak and into the Swede's path.

Alexander-Arnold's defensive cut-out was able to instigate a counter attack culminating in a chance for Jota to break the deadlock, the Portuguese electing to strike with a tame outside-of-the-boot effort under pressure.

Jota was deputising for Roberto Firmino in perhaps more ways than one when he side-netted the third of a hat-trick of chances in the opening 45 minutes, comically this time from close distance as the final action of a half almost beyond parody for Liverpool in light of such barren games in front of goal recently. 

The introduction of Justin Kluivert on the hour kick-started his side's attempt at regaining traction in the tie, providing an injection of pace and directness. 

Ozan Kabak, Nat Phillips and Fabinho nonetheless showed on different occasions they were a match, showcasing defensive solidity particularly in aerial duels. 

Another of Julian Nagelsmann's substitutions in Alexander Sorloth done well to direct a looping yet troubling header onto the crossbar after Hee-chan Hwang's awkwardly-heightened cross. 

Mo Salah was able to tuck away somewhat of a renaissance in Liverpool's killer counter-attacking style, starting off the move with Trent Alexander-Arnold in his own half in a sequence involving all three of Liverpool's attacker's and Thiago.

In typical clinical fashion, the Egyptian was able to effectively roll the ball inside of the near post for his 24th goal in 41 games for Liverpool in Europe.

Liverpool's second and the decider in the tie came four minutes later and was another display of gorgeous one-touch football, something of a collector's item for the Reds in 2021. 

The ball made its way through Alexander-Arnold, substitutes Divock Origi and Naby Keita along with Salah on the right flank before Mane directed a whipped Origi ball home and sign off on the mirrored score sheet to that of the first leg.

With the exception of another shot crashing against the side-netting, this time from Origi, both sides accepted their fate in the closing stages as Leipzig's efforts  for their first trophy switch to the Bundesliga as they sit two points behind leaders Bayern Munich

  • Takeaways

Centre back pairing

The positive effects of Fabinho's first start in his usual role in the 6 was felt not only ahead of him, but also in the back line where Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips lined up as a pairing only for the second time. 

This is not to diminish the Brazilian, who has performed competently in the heart of the defence but also has not played in the more advanced position since the 2-0 group stage loss against Atalanta on November 25 2020. 

Phillips notably was able to win 8/12 of his duels, including a one-on-one opportunity and perform 5 clearances in his impressive 90 minutes.

The display in Budapest provided ample evidence to Klopp and the management that not only playing Fabinho in his accustomed position but also starting this defensive duo is the way forward for the team. 

Revival of attacking flair

Judgement of the first half showing was dependent on the whether pessimistic or optimistic sentiment within the Liverpool faithful prevailed at the break, with many chances created but precious little converted. 

Liverpool have been guilty since the turn of the year of lacking inspiration in attempting to break down the low-blocks they have encountered- tonight was not one of them nights.

Perhaps probed to show a bit more determination when facing a side with something to play for, Liverpool grasped the opportunity in the second half.

The Reds were punishing and ruthless in both situations leading to their goals, demonstrating that willingness that has been found wanting too often in the league recently. 

Where do priorities lie?

Suggestions of prioritising European competition for the season's remainder were met with rebuttal from Jurgen Klopp when questioned recently, saying his club are "too big" to dismiss the Premier League. 

Indeed, it would be bold brave to do such; instead Klopp and co. should take stock from such an assured performance and attempt to translate it into domestic showings. 

Fighting on both fronts will be challenging in any circumstance, never mind those faced by Liverpool this campaign, but it would be too early to call what competition to prioritise just yet.  

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