The Champions League is back and the last 16 has thrown up some really exciting ties to determine who will make it into the quarter-finals.
Among them are English champions Liverpool, who are currently going through a shocking run of form, who take on Bundesliga side RB Leipzig who came through a group of death in the group stages and currently sit in second place domestically.
The Reds are going through their worst run of form in the last three years and have now lost three league games in a row for the first time since November 2014, while the Bundesliga side have won each of their last four games.
A big factor of this tie will be the fact that neither side will benefit from home advantage at any point. Due to COVID-19 regulations, the first leg (Leipzig’s home leg) will be held in Budapest at the Puskas Arena while the second leg (Liverpool’s home leg) will be held in a neutral venue also – although it’s undecided where yet.
Being behind closed doors was already a big factor for both sides, with both clubs’ atmosphere key to their successes in previous years. Obviously this year has been different since the start, with no fans at all anyway, but in Europe it could make all the difference.
Liverpool’s style of play would usually be the exact remedy to getting a result against Leipzig, with their capabilities to both counter at speed and also control possession and sustain attacks among the best in Europe. Leipzig have shown an ability to deal with top teams with their own system, with Nagelsman able to be tactically flexible with several systems under his belt.
It’s an intriguing tie moreso because of the way both sides are playing right now. On paper, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t see Liverpool progressing with relative ease when the draw was made initially.
The pace of Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane up front with the playmaking abilities of Thiago Alcantara and Roberto Firmino would have made them a scary prospect on the counter attack, and they still are. But recent games have shown a true lack of killer instinct in the final third and has seen them struggle to convert chances against opposition they’d normally dispatch of.
Leipzig’s star defender Dayot Upamecano has just been announced as a Bayern Munich player for next season, which will likely have some sort of effect on the build up for the game.
Now however, Leipzig will take encouragement from the situation of both teams and will believe they can damage the Reds both home and away. A one-legged tie may have suited the Germans even more with their versatility in games, but as it stands I think Liverpool will still have too much for them over two games.
While they’ve lacked a cutting edge going forward, Liverpool are still showing enough in their build up to convince me that they will create chances and at some point those chances will turn to goals once again.
Jordan Henderson’s role in central defence could be a big problem for them defensively, but if Fabinho can get back to fitness and partner Ozan Kabak or Ben Davies, that would allow Henderson to move back into midfield and do what he does best. He is the leader of the team in more ways than just wearing the armband and his presence is needed back in the centre of the pitch.
While I think there will be goals in both directions in this time, overall I think Liverpool’s added quality will shade them the win and they’ll progress into the quarter-finals.
RB Leipzig 1-1 Liverpool
Liverpool 2-1 RB Leipzig
(Liverpool progress 3-2 on aggregate)