Liverpool 2 RB Leipzig 0 (4-0 agg): Mo Salah and Sadio Mane ease pressure on Jurgen Klopp as Reds breeze past Germans
Finally, Liverpool were able to win at home. Even though it was just over 1000 miles from Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp’s battered and bruised team, whose confidence has been shattered into tiny little pieces over the pitch at their famous home, headed to Hungary and returned victorious.
And into the Champions League quarter-finals.
After wasting a string of first-half chances, it looked as though Liverpool were once again trying to shoot themselves in the foot in this second leg in Budapest.
Instead, a couple of goals inside the space of four minutes from Mo Salah and Sadio Mane ensured a stress-free end to a game for Klopp.
And it has been a long time since we have seen that broad grin which was on display during the 15 minutes minutes.
It was a thoroughly deserved win over Leipzig who were a major disappointment.
Despite all their traumas in the Premier League – and their struggles have been spectacular – it would be just typical of both Klopp and Liverpool to stick two fingers at everyone and head off on an unbelievable journey in the Champions League.
The final this year will be at Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium, a place Liverpool know well. A venue where they proved that anything is possible and dreams can come true.
But Klopp, of course will not be getting ahead of himself. He will be pleased to have got through a difficult-looking tie to ensure that the team still has something to play for this season.
After a torrid run including six successive defeats at Anfield, Liverpool were in control throughout and they could have put the tie to bed within the first half hour.
But they stayed calm and refused to panic. Although Bobby Firmino was again injured, the other members of their three musketeers – Salah and Mane – rediscovered their nerve in front of goal.
A 4-0 win on aggregate against the Bundesliga’s best defence was no mean achievement by Klopp, who has found himself in the darkest place of his managerial career.
Equally, Klopp will have enjoyed getting one over 33-year-old Julian Naglesmann, the next big thing in the Bundesliga.
Naglesmann had overseen wins over Spurs and Atletico Madrid in the knockout stages last season and their win over Manchester United in the final group game this term was enough to send Ole Gunnar Solskjaer into the Europa League.
But, playing at the same stadium in Budapest as in the first leg three weeks ago, there was no way his team could find a past Liverpool who, last night, were officially playing their home leg.
Despite all the problems, there were encouraging performances in central defence from Ozan Kabak and particularly Nat Phillips, whose warrior-like performance was enhanced by a bandage.
Fabinho started a game in midfield for the first time since the 2-2 draw with Everton in October.
That was the game when Virgil van Dijk suffered his injury and Fabinho had been forced to take up a role as a makeshift central defence.
Although he was decent in that position, Liverpool missed the Brazilian in his favourite position and he looked comfortable back in midfield, protecting the back four, while midfielder Thiago also had one of his better games.
There was one early concern for Liverpool when Leipzig delivered a quick counter attack and they were thankful for Alisson’s save to deny Dani Olmo.
Mane took a bang to the head courtesy of the fist of Peter Gulacsi after the former Liverpool keeper cleared Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick.
And Gulacsi who never made a senior appearance for Liverpool but was farmed out on loan to Hereford, Tranmere and Hull, showed great reflexes to keep out a decent header from Diogo Jota.
Sala, Mane and Jota all wasted good chances. And, although returning from injury, Jota delivered a horrendous miss at the stroke of half-time and booted an effort into the side-netting.
Leipzig had to change something at the break but after changing their system, they did not threaten until midway inside the second half when sub Alex Sorloth sent a header against the bar.
Maybe that would have sparked a comeback because we will never know. Liverpool replied swifty and Thiago, Mane and Jota combined for Salah. He turned the lumbering Dayot Upamecano and stuck the ball in the corner.
Divock Origi, combining well with fellow sub Naby Keita, delivered a great cross for Mane who had a simple effort at the far post to put the game beyond the east Germans.
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Klopp and his team will have enjoyed the two-and-half hour flight back to Liverpool.
The champions now have successive away games at both Wolves and Arsenal. But surely, though, Liverpool will now be concentrating on a Cup rather than the League.
Although considering their current form, the Reds will probably be happy if they are forced to play their quarter-final home leg somewhere other than Anfield.
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