Liverpool rediscovered lost form and seized the initiative against RB Leipzig in the first leg of their Champions League final 16 clash by cruising to a 2-0 win in cold Budapest on Tuesday.
Clinical early strikes in the second half by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, both thanks to terrible defensive errors, proved decisive and left the German side a formidable task in the return leg on March 10.
The win takes Jurgen Klopp’s men to the brink of the Champions League quarter-finals and also ends a run of three consecutive defeats, leaving the England champions 13 points behind leaders Manchester City in the Premier League.
“It was a game we wanted, it was a game we needed tonight,” Klopp told BT Sport afterwards.
“Leipzig can be a real monster. The way they play in the Bundesliga exceed teams, they can be very physical in everything and tonight we controlled them in an exceptional way.”
“They had their moments because of the quality they have, but we controlled the game, so I think tonight we have the result we deserved,” he said.
The first leg was moved from Leipzig to the Hungarian capital due to Covid-19’s strict travel restrictions in Germany.
Despite the forced move, Julian Nagelsmann’s side started a four-game winning streak at home, where they are second behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, fast and advanced almost four minutes.
Marauding left back Angelino slammed fellow Spaniard Dani Olmo for a short-range diving past Alisson, but the attempt only rattled the post.
Shortly after, Angelino made use of the space on the left again, but his left-footed volley passed harmlessly over the goal mouth.
Instead, it was Liverpool, striving to reverse their slump and in dire need of a Champions League lift, gradually creating more opportunities, often benefiting from loose defense.
Firstly, Salah, who was busy, forced a block from the Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi from Leipzig in the quarter.
Ten minutes later, Mane, who outwitted Nordi Mukiele, headed a Firmino cross just over, after the Brazilian forward and Salah had made a good combination on the right.
Shortly before halftime, Andy Robertson shaved the bar when his long-range lob nearly caught Budapest-born Gulacsi after making a move outside his sixteen.
Although Leipzig flared up at the restart with Alisson Becker’s save from Christopher Nkunku, the German side suffered two catastrophic errors at the start of the second half.
In the 53rd minute, Salah jumped on a sloppy pass back from Austrian midfielder Marcel Sabitzer and ran unquestionably to pass Gulacsi smoothly.
Five minutes later, Mane similarly doubled Liverpool’s lead, finishing smartly after Mukiele dropped a clearance.
“We made two big mistakes that would be penalized at every level,” Nagelsmann told DAZN.
“Mistakes happen, we didn’t play badly and we have to live with the result, we have to score twice to bring the game (return leg) to extra time, but we will try to do our best,” he said.
With Swedish playmaker Emil Forsberg sidelined by a knee injury and the lack of a talismanistic goalscorer, Leipzig rarely threatened to withdraw one.
Liverpool were left to cruise to victory and keep their hopes of silverware through Champions League glory alive this season, despite their domestic woes.
“We were very good for two years and then we had some problems this year,” said Klopp.
“That’s perfectly normal and I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just a lot of people who expected us to slip again because of the situation and the boys didn’t,” he said.
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