RB Leipzig 0 Liverpool 2: Mo Salah and Sadio Mane hand Reds advantage in Champions League last-16 tie

THEY have won the Champions League in Istanbul with a weaker team than this patched-up side.

And while Liverpool may not yet be dreaming of a return to the Ataturk Stadium – the venue for this year’s final, as well as their miraculous 2005 comeback – this was quite some tonic for Jurgen Klopp.

It helped that the fallen Premier League champions came across a defence even more chaotic than their own.

Having frequently gifted goals to their opponents during a run of five defeats in seven games, the Reds were the beneficiaries of some train-wreck defending from what is, statistically speaking, the best rearguard in the Bundesliga.

Mo Salah, with his 24th goal of the season, and Sadio Mane, with his 11th, pounced on two clangers to leave Liverpool as clear favourites to reach the quarter-finals, before a return leg scheduled for Anfield on March 10.

This competition is Liverpool’s only chance of silverware this season and they certainly look up for it.

They attacked with verve and conviction, belying their shoddy recent domestic form.

And even with four central defenders on the injury list, this is still a stronger Liverpool side than that which famously defeated AC Milan in Istanbul 16 years ago.

But what help they received from RB Leipzig, whose boss Julian Nagelsmann is the most sought-after young coach in Europe – despite him seemingly having sent out his defenders wearing clown shoes in Budapest last night.

This last-16 first-leg tie had been switched from Germany to Hungary for Covid reasons – not that there is any true home advantage in pandemic-era football anyway.


Wherever the return match is played – and the German government do not want it to be in Britain – you cannot see Klopp’s men coming a cropper.

It was at this stage of last year’s Champions League when Liverpool’s air of invincibility began to slip, as they lost their European crown with defeat by Atletico Madrid.

Germany’s disco-juice crew had knocked out Tottenham last year and Manchester United in this season’s group stages, so English opposition should have offered no fears.

And within five minutes, they were filleting Liverpool’s backline.

Angelino, the former Manchester City wing-back who played a major part in dismantling United in December, sent over a cross and Dani Olmo’s diving header crashed against the post.

But Klopp’s men were soon playing some red-blooded, high-tempo retro Liverpool stuff.

When Trent Alexander-Arnold slipped in Salah, Leipzig’s former Liverpool keeper Peter Gulacsi raced out  to charge down his attempted lob.

Alisson, an embarrassment in recent defeats by Leicester and Manchester City, was still looking dodgy with his feet, picking out Leipzig players and inviting pressure.

Yet Liverpool were pressing high, snapping into tackles, passing and moving at speed, just like the old days – Roberto Firmino centring and Mane heading narrowly over.

On a rapid Liverpool counter, Gulacsi had to race out of his area to halt a Mane run, then almost found himself lobbed by Andy Robertson.

The Scot’s effort found the roof of the net and the Hungarian keeper raced back to end up caught in the back of it.

It was proper toe-to-toe football, the lack of home advantage extinguishing all thoughts of caginess – not that there has been much defensive-minded football in the Champions League knock-out stages during the past few seasons.

Both defences were sloppy in their attempts to play out from the back, and both attacks seized on errors with toothy high-pressing games.

Liverpool had the ball in the net on 36 minutes after Dayot Upamecano surrendered possession and Mane ended up cutting back for Firmino to beat Gulacsi with a stooping header.

Yet the linesman judged the ball had just gone out of play before the Senegalese had played the final pass – VAR did not intervene and replays were inconclusive.

Straight after the break, Olmo released Christopher Nkunku, who was thwarted by Allison, darting off his line to block.

It always seemed as the breakthrough would come from a loose defensive pass and so it proved, on 53 minutes, when Marcel Sabitzer attempted to play it back to Lukas Klostermann but misjudged it and allowed Salah a free sight at goal.

The Egyptian controlled it and slotted past Gulacsi – Sabitzer running back with his hands on his head, Klopp celebrating aggressively.

Four minutes later, it was two – and this time Leipzig’s defending was even worse.

Curtis Jones lofted a ball over the top and Nordi Mukiele took a horrible lunge at it, missing the ball and allowing Mane to nod down, advance and slip it home.

Leipzig remained threatening in attack – Angelino and Almo both went close before Angelino skewed their best chance horribly wide.

But skipper Jordan Henderson and new boy Ozan Kabak were much-improved in a supposedly dodgy central defence.

Who knows? They may even go all the way in the Turkish capital, like Djimi Traore, John Arne Riise and Milan Baros did all those years ago.

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