BUDAPEST, February 17: Liverpool rediscovered lost form and seized the initiative against RB Leipzig in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash by cruising to a 2-0 win in a chilly Budapest on Tuesday.
Clinical early second-half strikes from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, both courtesy of dreadful defensive errors, proved decisive and leave the German side facing a formidable task in the return leg on March 10.
The win moves Jurgen Klopp’s men to the brink of the Champions League quarter-finals and also ends a run of three straight defeats that has left the English 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 they overrun teams, they can be really 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 tonight I think we got the result we deserved,” he said.
The first leg was moved from Leipzig to the Hungarian capital due to Germany’s strict Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Despite the enforced relocation, Julian Nagelsmann’s side, on a four-game winning streak at home where they are second behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, started briskly and almost went ahead on four minutes.
Marauding left-back Angelino teed up fellow Spaniard Dani Olmo for a close-range diving header past Alisson but the effort only rattled the post.
Soon after Angelino again exploited space on the left but his left-footed volley skewed harmlessly across the goalmouth.
Instead it was Liverpool, striving to reverse their slump and badly in need of a Champions League lift, who gradually created more chances, often benefitting from loose defending.
First, Salah, busy throughout, forced a block from Leipzig’s Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi on the quarter hour.
Ten minutes later Mane, outjumping Nordi Mukiele, headed a Firmino cross just over after the Brazilian striker and Salah had combined well on the right.
Shortly before half-time, Andy Robertson shaved the crossbar when his lob from distance almost caught out the Budapest-born Gulacsi dashing back after making a clearance outside his box.
Although Leipzig perked up on the restart with Alisson Becker saving from Christopher Nkunku, the German side, were made to pay for two calamitous mistakes early in the second half.
In the 53rd minute, Salah pounced on a sloppy back-pass by Austrian midfielder Marcel Sabitzer and ran unchallenged to smoothly slot past Gulacsi.
Five minutes later, Mane doubled Liverpool’s lead in similar fashion, smartly finishing after Mukiele had scuffed a clearance.
“We made two huge mistakes which would be punished at any level,” Nagelsmann told DAZN.
“Mistakes happen, we didn’t play badly and we have to live with the result, we have to score twice just to take 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 lacking a talismanic goalscorer, Leipzig rarely threatened to pull one back.
Liverpool were left to cruise to victory, keeping alive their hopes of silverware via Champions League glory this season despite their domestic woes.
“We were for two years really good and then this year we had some problems,” said Klopp.
“That’s absolutely normal and I have no problem with that. It’s just a lot of people probably expected us to slip again because of the situation and the boys didn’t,” he said. (AFP)