The good, the bad & a timely break in fortunes? – Debating Leipzig 0-2 Liverpool

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Liverpool finally got a win under their belt in the month of February after putting two unanswered goals beyond Leipzig, setting up solid foundations for the second leg.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men travelled to Budapest in search of a positive result to take into the second leg, and they did just that thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

After paying the price for their mistakes in weeks gone by, the Reds found themselves on the other side of the coin against the German outfit as their sloppy play was duly punished.

It was a result which sets Liverpool up nicely for the reverse fixture in March and many will hope it act as a timely springboard on the domestic front too.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) is joined by Owen Collins (@OGBCollins) and Jay (@jaytothelo) to discuss the highs and the lows from Liverpool’s victory and if the result can be the timely break in fortunes needed.

 

The good…

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - Tuesday, February 16, 2021: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates with team-mates after scoring the second goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at the Puskás Aréna. (Pic by Propaganda)

OWEN: That’s more like it! Not only a huge result that sets us up nicely for wherever we end up playing the second leg but an excellent performance from every player on the pitch.

It wasn’t just having the huge majority of the possession – which isn’t such a novelty – it was the way we used it: controlling the tempo, biding our time, keeping the opposition chasing shadows and forcing mistakes out of them. We made them look pretty second-rate for a lot of the game.

I don’t really care that both of our goals came from those defensive errors, either – give either Salah or Mane a chance like that and you’ll get punished. It reminded me of Origi’s crossbar-rattling attempt against Burnley, and the simple truth that if you take opportunities like that you’ll win games; if you don’t, you won’t.

Also a shout-out for Trent, who was not only fizzing further up the pitch but made some crucial tackles at the back as well.

And as for Curtis Jones – the way he bossed the Champions League knock-out stage, you’d never guess that last season he only just scraped enough league appearances for a medal. The definition of a meteoric rise – the only downside being that an England call-up is now on the cards, and therefore probably an end to his unblemished injury record…

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - Tuesday, February 16, 2021: Liverpool's Curtis Jones during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at the Puskás Aréna. (Pic by Propaganda)

JAY: The reaction was a good one, we played well!

I have to agree with Owen about Jones, he really showed again the qualities he offers as a midfielder and put up one of his best performances to date, I think.

Kabak looked pretty good and hopefully can settle into a partnership with…someone. Front three were good, with Salah a standout and Trent was also impressive throughout.

JOANNA: How great was it to have that winning feeling back and to celebrate two goals?! I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect birthday gift.

It is weird to think that the away goals came in Budapest against a German team though…

But as Owen said, it’s a result which puts us in good stead for the second leg and will act as a confidence booster to the team after a tough few weeks now that attention will turn back to the league.

The energy of the side is what impressed and after the game, Mane noted how it was an invaluable boost to the notion of “believing until the end” and it was apparent in their performance that they did not want to let another game slip through their fingers.

I’ll echo the thoughts on Jones as he continues to impress with every game, but a special mention also goes to Ozan Kabak who looked more settled in the side in his second game.

And how nice was it for decisions not to be dragged out by referees and VAR.

 

The bad…

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - Tuesday, February 16, 2021: Liverpool's Andy Robertson during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at the Puskás Aréna. (Pic by Propaganda)

OWEN: For all the good, there were still a few scattered negatives.

A semi-regular underhit or overhit pass that stalled momentum, for instance, and we gave the ball away needlessly a few times, drawing an industrial challenge and booking from Kabak as a consequence.

In the long run, it didn’t matter, but they served as mementoes of the mental fatigue that has plagued the team for the last couple of months of this hectic, draining season.

Occasional blips in concentration are forgivable, but a more organised side than Leipzig might’ve punished us and it could’ve been (almost) as awkward as Steve McManaman’s inability to tell black players apart on BT…

Also – a minor point, in the grand scheme of things – but our kit definitely looked better with that FIFA World Champions badge emblazoned on the chest. Go out there and make sure we’re in the mix to get it back next year, lads!

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - Tuesday, February 16, 2021: Liverpool's Xherdan Shaqiri during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at the Puskás Aréna. (Pic by Propaganda)

JAY: I still feel like our final pass and finishing has been lacking. We were blessed with two goals on a plate essentially but for a team that’s run out of luck lately, you’ll take them.

Feel like we need to find a way to unlock Thiago‘s best and I think that’ll only happen when we have Fabinho or Hendo in the midfield again. Our defence was exposed a little at times but for a team like Leipzig, that’s to be expected.

JOANNA: Nothing as alarming as recent weeks but certainly areas to tidy up.

A more clinical side could have forced us to pay the price of some poor positioning and possession, as the guys have mentioned, but I suppose that is what comes from what is still a somewhat unbalanced defence and a team still searching for their groove.

And I feel really sorry for Oxlade-Chamberlain as he has not had the rub of the green of late since his most recent injury and it was a late cameo to forget really.

You’d be able to give him more chances if the team were firing on all cylinders but it’s not currently the case.

 

And is this the break in fortunes Liverpool have needed?

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - Tuesday, February 16, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp reacts during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at the Puskás Aréna. (Pic by Propaganda)

OWEN: I’m keen not to prematurely proclaim we’ve “turned a corner” – after all, I thought we’d turned a corner against Spurs and West Ham, and to coin a phrase, if you turn too many corners you end up back where you started.

But while last night’s showing wasn’t a million miles from portions of the Man City match or long periods of the Leicester defeat, it was thankfully devoid of the individual clangers, ill-judged fouls, or dodgy VAR decisions (or some combination of the three) that have tainted those recent performances.

Maybe you could attribute some of that to a refreshingly competent performance from the ref, but even so, there seemed something steelier about us than we’ve seen for quite a while – in what had by default become one of our biggest remaining games this season.

As Klopp said afterwards, you don’t become mentality giants in one match but last night was maybe the foundation stone not only for rebuilding much-missed confidence but setting out on the road to becoming those giants once more. Bring it on.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - Tuesday, February 16, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (L) celebrates with team-mate Roberto Firmino after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg game between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at the Puskás Aréna. (Pic by Propaganda)

JAY: I think we’ve been lacking a little bit of fortune lately and I hope this was a sign of things to come.

We’ve had a few ‘reactions’ this season that we’ve not really kicked on from, but we have a couple of weeks until the return leg and hopefully, we can string along a decent run in the Champions League.

If we get through the next round, hopefully, we’ll have Jota, Fabinho and Keita back and we have a decent chance of a going deeper into the competition.

JOANNA: Being able to drop the baggage accumulated in the league of late seemingly worked wonders.

The change in scenery provided a fresh chance to refresh and I agree with Owen in the fact that the win by no means suggests we’re back on an exponential rise but it was just what was needed.

Players and fans alike were craving a break in fortunes and it was nice that we were not once again on the receiving end of our errors being reflected on the scoresheet.

It will certainly inject a boost of confidence but the challenge now changes back to teams who will not provide Liverpool with as much space to exploit and they need to carry their belief and intent into the next run of games.

And as Jay said, getting Naby Keita back into the fold and, hopefully, Fabinho, could act as a further boost.

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