The Champions League last 16 fixtures are finally upon us after a two month break since the group stages.
In one of the biggest ties of the round we’ll see Italian champions Inter Milan in their first knockout round since the 2011/12 season, and they’ll take on Premier League heavyweights Liverpool.
Lets take a look at the tie in more detail and make our predictions to see who will progress into the last eight of Europe’s most prestigious cup competition.
Route to the last 16
It was two very different group stages for these two sides, with Simone Inzaghi’s men battling it out with Real Madrid, Shakhtar Donetsk and Sheriff until the final day.
It wasn’t until defeat to Madrid in that final group game that they were unable to win the group, but with three wins from the other five games they managed to secure the runners-up spot.
They scored only eight goals during the groups, and conceded five, so there is plenty of room for improvement there. Domestically, they currently a point behind rivals AC Milan with a game in hand.
For Liverpool, it was quite literally the perfect campaign.
A group of death containing AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and FC Porto was expected to cause them problems but Jurgen Klopp’s side made it six wins from six to become the first English side to earn a 100% record in the competition’s history.
They scored a wonderful 17 goals in six games, conceding six to come into the knockout stages as one team that everyone wanted to avoid.
Inter will be missing their key midfielder Nicolo Barella for the first leg after he was sent off in the final group game against Real Madrid.
Arturo Vidal should replace him, while Ivan Perisic is likely to continue at left-wing-back with January signing Robert Gosens still injured.
Liverpool are essentially at full strength and Klopp has got the strongest squad of his entire tenure at Anfield to choose from currently.
Diogo Jota will likely return to the team after missing the weekend win over Burnley, while Luis Diaz will probably start on the bench since both Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are back from AFCON.
Breakdown and Prediction
Inzaghi will stick with his 3-5-2 system that he loves, with Lautaro Martinez likely partnered up front by Edin Dzeko.
The midfield strength with Brozovic and Calhanoglu gives lots of balance and with Vidal going box-to-box they can go toe-to-toe with the Liverpool midfield.
In attack though, Liverpool are likely to cause far problems to Inter than vice-versa. They have great depth and goals from all three attackers are possible, but Inter have adapted their system in Europe under Inzaghi and are difficult to beat.
Without any real pace in behind though, Liverpool should be able to deal with their best attacking threats and while a clean sheet won’t be easy I would be surprised if Inter grabbed a goal at Anfield.
Because of that and the added depth they have in their squad, I expect Liverpool to progress through this tie but don’t be surprised if they make hard work of it.
Inter Milan 1-1 Liverpool Liverpool 2-0 Inter Milan (Liverpool to qualify 3-1 on aggregate)
Liverpool were up to their usual tricks during the January transfer window, swooping in late and quickly to secure a top target.
After Tottenham made a bid for Porto’s Colombian star Luis Diaz, Jurgen Klopp made the decision to move early for a player he had identified as a key target for the summer window.
They swooped in, secured a deal worth a total of £50m and they now have a brand new weapon in their attack to unleash on the second half of the Premier League season.
But as soon as the deal was confirmed and announced, many fans began to wonder what that meant for the future of superstar Mo Salah, whose current contract expires at the end of next season.
The future of Salah has been a conversation for a while, with both parties publicly stating their wish to continue their relationship.
However with reports that the Egyptian is requesting a record wage for the club, it has been met with resistance from the board.
As Salah approaches his 30th birthday, it’s only natural that he wants a big payday in his final big contract. But on top of that, his performances since moving to Anfield mean that he feels he should be earning on par with the other best players in the world. He’s not wrong.
But further to Salah, the contracts of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino also expire next summer and it’s more likely that their places in the team are under threat from Diaz’s arrival than Salah’s.
My personal expectation is that the two parties will find a compromise and thrash out a deal that sees Salah stay at the club as their highest-paid player ever, before eventually riding off into the sunset in a few years when he’s past his peak.
But for Mane, many have seen his influence diminish in recent years and he won’t have nearly as much leverage when it comes to demanding a big contract at his age.
Firmino is in the most danger, having already lost his place in the team to Diogo Jota and finding that he’s not as important as he once was in a red shirt.
Add to all that the fact that Diaz is a right-footed winger who likes to cut in from the left, he could quite easily play in the same team as Salah and provide a terrifying attacking threat for Klopp and Liverpool.
While Liverpool fans are focused on potentially losing one of the best attackers to ever don the shirt and represent the club, they should probably be worried about losing the other two attackers that made up part of their famous trio.
If Salah ends up agreeing terms as many expect him to eventually do, that leaves less in the budget to renew Mane and Firmino’s deals and with a ready-made replacement already in the squad it seems more likely one of those will leave in the summer.
It says something about the strength of the Premier League right now that three of the top four teams in the world right now are plying their trade in England’s top flight.
Alongside Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga, Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool are running riot as the best and most effective teams in the world right now.
In those teams are some of the best players in the world right now, but arguably the best of the bunch currently is Anfield hero Mohamed Salah.
The Egyptian has been in the form of his life so far this season, registering an amazing 17 goals and eight assists in 18 games in all competitions.
But as Liverpool played host to Southampton on Saturday afternoon, for once he wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Even despite that though, Liverpool were able to run out 4-0 winners thanks to goals from Diogo Jota, Thiago and Virgil Van Dijk.
Salah did register an assist, but the overall performance for Liverpool was very encouraging against a good side in Southampton.
The full-backs were flying once again, with both Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold registering assists, while the midfield were able to dominate the ball and also chip in with creativity too.
It was the performance of Portuguese forward Jota that would have been most encouraging for Jurgen Klopp though, as he continued his excellent form with two goals early in the first half.
For a player who was initially signed as cover for the famous front three, Jota’s form and performances have pushed him firmly into consideration for a regular starting role in the team ahead of Roberto Firmino.
One of the big things for Liverpool’s attack was that all three players didn’t need to be firing for them to be influential on the result of a game, but Firmino’s drop-off over the last 18 months had essentially taken one of their weapons away.
Jota’s work rate means Liverpool are able to restore the feeling without Firmino, but his added quality in attack means they are back to having a three-pronged attack that is capable of rotating and going toe-to-toe with any defence in the world.
For Liverpool that can only be a good thing. It means that when a team does manage to halt the momentum of Salah, or even Sadio Mane for that matter, they still have one more weapon in their arsenal to punish the opposition.
It’s amazing for Liverpool and just another reason why they’re among the best teams in the world currently.
When a player’s stats are so good that the hashtag #OnlySalah trends because he is constantly out on his own in whatever the metric is, it’s hard to establish why his greatness is in doubt to so many.
Since joining Liverpool in the summer of 2017, Mo Salah has without a doubt become one of the best players in the world. He has scored 134 goals in 212 appearances for the Kop, including 101 in 152 games in the Premier League.
He has won the Premier League, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup as well as reaching another Champions League final and being part of the Liverpool side that were by far the best ever runners-up in Premier League history.
The success of Liverpool’s team since that season has largely been attributed to the brilliance of Virgil Van Dijk, who arrived in January in a £75m deal from Southampton and seemingly turned their defensive fortunes around.
But it seems to have been far too easily forgotten in that half-season where it was just Salah and not Van Dijk that the Egyptian was still absolutely dazzling. By the time January 1st 2018 rolled around, Salah already had 23 goals in all competitions to go with six assists in 29 appearances.
He ended that season with a record breaking 32 Premier League goals in 36 games, and 44 goals with 16 assists in 52 appearances across all competitions.
Since then his numbers have never quite reached those levels since, ending each season with 27, 23 and 31 goals while he currently has nine in nine games this season.
But while the first season was all about goals, goals, goals, the improvement in his overall game has seen a development that is only usually attributed to the very best players in the world.
His first touch has improved immensely, his decision making is better, he is still a world class dribbler, he can finish with both feet, he presses hard from the front in line with Jurgen Klopp’s system and his link-up play has improved to the point where Roberto Firmino is no longer considered an automatic starter.
Salah can play in the middle or from the right, his pace is frightening, his movement is brilliant and just like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski he comes across as just inevitable for oppositions.
But despite all of this, some people still doubt him. I’ve seen him left out of lists of the top ten players in the world, even in the best players in the Premier League by some. But chuck your bias away, ignore that he isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing player in the world and focus on what he can do and does on a regular basis.
He affects the biggest games against the best opposition on a regular basis and he is one of the attacking players in the world who doesn’t need to score a goal to have a good game. He also doesn’t need to be playing well and have a good game to score a winning goal.
He’s special. He’s one of Liverpool’s best players ever now, and it’s about time everyone started putting some respect on Mo Salah’s name.
The word crisis is thrown around far too much in football these days, but Liverpool are well and truly in trouble right now.
The defending Premier League champions currently sit in eighth place in the league with just 43 points from 28 games so far this season, making them statistically the worst defending champions of all-time at this point.
All eyes seem to point to their injury problems as a big reason for their huge drop off, but that seems like a really easy way out to cover up other issues. There is much more wrong with this team than simply fitness worries.
Lets be clear though, injuries are a factor. Any club that was without their three best defenders for the vast majority of the season would suffer, but some of the problems that have stemmed from that are of their own making.
Despite having youngster Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams available for much of the campaign, Jurgen Klopp instead opted to play captain and influential midfielder Jordan Henderson in defence. That led to him getting a muscle injury that has prematurely ended his season and meant the midfield has been bereft of it’s usual leadership and quality.
Thiago Alcantara has struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League, while Gini Wijnaldum has failed to adapt to a more defensive role. Curtis Jones has been the best performer in the midfield position but to rely on him to lead the team forward is an ask too far for the youngster.
In attack, they have been found out. Mo Salah is the Premier League top goalscorer with 17 goals so far, but he’s scored those goals in only 12 games during the campaign despite making 27 appearances. Sadio Mane is having arguably his worst season in England since coming from the Austrian Bundesliga back in 2014. While Roberto Firmino has been falling lower and lower in the rankings of striker across Europe for a long period of time.
The full-backs, while still full of quality, have been poor this season for the most part. Defensively they’ve struggled massively and going forward where they usually shine more than anything else they’ve failed to deliver.
That hasn’t stopped Klopp from keeping a system in place that clearly isn’t working anymore, with Robertson and Alexander-Arnold still the main creators. The lack of form of the team as a whole isn’t a shock when you consider their drop off too and Klopp’s decision not to alter the team’s setup is pretty shocking.
The team are crying out for a new setup to help get the best out of the players they have available and in-form. Klopp must adapt and change if they are to have any sort of chance of rescuing the campaign. Top four looks like it could be in genuine doubt, meaning that the best chance of Champions League football next season will be through winning the tournament for a second time in three years.
They’re currently leading 2-0 against RB Leipzig in the last 16 of the competition but if they are to progress to the next round, their form will without a doubt make them a team that many teams will be willing to be drawn against.
Players look unhappy, the coach looks drained and the performance of the team is at an all-time low following six consecutive defeats at Anfield. This goes deeper than injuries and that needs to be spoken of, despite the successes of the squad in recent years.
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.
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)
Over the past three years we’ve witnessed the best Liverpool team in generations. They accumulated 197 points in two seasons whilst picking up four trophies, including a Premier League title, Champions League title and a FIFA Club World Cup, the first in the club’s history.
There is no doubt that this squad of players have excelled all over the pitch, but would it be possible to build the perfect player by trying to merge attributes from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool players, with the only rule being you can’t use a player more than once? Lets give it a try…
Whilst firmly cementing himself at the heart of Liverpool’s midfield during the 18/19 campaign, Fabinho dominated in holding midfield sweeping up after those in front him. Virgil van Dijk once described him as Inspector Gadget because, “his legs are everywhere.” His ability to read the game is second to none, proven by his emphatic performances at centre back for the champions so far this season in the absence of van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, not to mention his appearances at right-back for the Brazilian national team as well. Definitely an underrated element of Liverpool’s recent success.
Heading Ability Virgil van Dijk
It was pretty hard to think of anyone else for this attribute. Virgil is almost the most perfect player himself and so could fill a lot of these attributes to come on his own. He adds a calmness in your own box when dealing with set pieces and adds a threat in the opposition’s.
This was most clear in his Liverpool debut in the Merseyside derby, where he added a sense of security to the back line and went on to score the winner at the Kop end. His leap, strength and dominance in the air will be perfect for our perfect player.
Physique James Milner
When you’re 35-years-old and still winning the long-distance runs within the squad, it’s made the decision easy. I’ve gone with James Milner. A model professional, always working hard to keep his physical condition in tip-top shape to still compete at this level.
To maintain the career he has from 16 years-old to now is something quite impressive and this may not have been the most obvious shout for this attribute but if our perfect player can stay at the peak of his physicality for 19 years (and counting) then there’s no doubt he’ll dominate the game.
Hands Alisson Becker
Well it’s fair to say there wasn’t much competition for this attribute, but nevertheless since joining the reds in the summer of 2018, Alisson has earned the status of one of the best goalkeepers with his hands but also his feet. An all-round solid goalkeeper who has come in clutch for Liverpool in so many key moments.
The “Goleiro Gato”, one of my personal highlights was when he collected more golden gloves than he had hands at the end of the Premier League and Champions League in 2019 and then with Brazil at the Copa America that same summer.
Tackling Roberto Firmino
Having already awarded Fabinho with the “brain” attribute it was quite tough to think of who could fill this slot, and naturally of course I went straight to the remaining centre backs. But after a quick search I was surprised to find that Firmino had completed more tackles (275) than all of Joel Matip, Joe Gomez and even Virgil van Dijk in the Premier League.
One of the hardest working forwards in Europe, this attribute will be essential for my player, winning the ball back high up the pitch and in potentially dangerous areas.
Agility Sadio Mane
He can turn left, he can turn right, the fact of the matter is you never know! And neither do defenders, making him incredibly dangerous in the final third especially when bringing the ball into the box. Mane’s balance and agility will be key for our perfect player.
Finishing Mohamed Salah
Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t. With two golden boots in 3 seasons and the record for amount of goals scored in a single Premier League season, there’s only one man this attribute can be awarded to.
With him recently also becoming Liverpool’s all-time top goalscorer in the Champions League, there’s no doubt in my mind that Salah is one of the best finishers in Liverpool’s history and this attribute will make our perfect player a match winner.
Passing Thiago Alcantara
A new addition to the squad but a star nonetheless. A diamond in midfield who shared the pitch with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso – and it shows! A truly blessed footballer who dictates the game from the middle of the park.
Speed Joe Gomez
Having already allocated Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to different attributes I can’t also give them speed, so having said that I’ve gone with Joe Gomez. Gomez of course doesn’t venture forward in the same way the attackers do, in fact he’s never actually scored a goal, but going the other way he is rapid.
His recovery speed is ridiculous, and many players include him in the conversation when they’re asked who would win in a race. If you try to imagine his running ability going forward maybe it can be appreciated more, but I’m saying our perfect player has Joe Gomez’s speed!
Dribbling Naby Keita
Maybe it goes quite under the radar just how press resistant Naby Keita actually is but when he’s on, he’s ON! One of the better ball carriers in Liverpool’s midfield and is great at breaking into the danger areas through the middle as an alternative to crossing into the box from the fullbacks. Our perfect player will have his dribbling, but definitely not his fitness problems!
Leadership Jordan Henderson
Filling the shoes of Steven Gerrard was never going to be an easy task for Jordan Henderson and it’s no secret that at times he’s struggled, but the turnaround to captain a side to winning the Champions League, after losing in the final the year before, and then winning the league, in an unprecedented way again after losing it the year before despite accumulating 97 points, only shows the signs of a phenomenal leader.
His teammates can’t speak highly enough of him and I always go back to the Champions League campaign of 2017/18, where Liverpool were in no way expected to reach the final but they did. A big part of that journey was down to Henderson. Particularly the home legs in the quarter-final and semi-final, Henderson never stopped running, set the intensity and led the press. A world class leader on and off the pitch.
Crossing Andrew Robertson
It’s well known how crucial Liverpool’s flying fullbacks and their assists have been to their success, reaching the pinnacle of English and European football. I have given crossing to Robertson, but obviously, him and Trent have equally been a threat going forward. Robertson once shared that he looks for the “gap between the defenders and the goalkeeper,” knowing how tough that is to defend against himself.
His vision, paired with his technique but also his relentlessness to always being in a good position to whip the ball in, is what makes him the perfect crosser for our perfect player.
Right foot Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold had to be in this list and I was happy to compromise and award Trent with the attribute of right foot. Trent is more than just a crosser. His passing ability in general is that of kid who grew up idolising midfielders like Gerrard and Alonso and being a midfielder himself all throughout youth football, his technical passing ability is superb. Scoring free-kicks on his right and striking a ball is not too difficult for him either so for that reason I’m giving our perfect player Trent’s right foot.
Left foot Xherdan Shaqiri
Maybe quite a surprise shout given the high-profile status of a certain Egyptian’s left peg, but my word on his day does Shaqiri have a wonder of a left foot. With a collection of sensational strikes from long range throughout his career, Shaqiri’s left foot is no joke and he is technically one of the most gifted player at the club. With the whip and power he can generate our perfect player is going to be lethal.
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As the Premier League draws to a close for 2020, Liverpool have stuttered once again after being held to a 0-0 draw by Newcastle.
The champions travelled to St James’ Park looking to move five points clear at the top of the Premier League heading into 2021, but an strong performance from Karl Darlow in goal and a fatigued performance from Jurgen Klopp’s side led to a stalemate.
It means back-to-back draws for Liverpool after their 1-1 draw with West Brom at the weekend, following their 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace prior to that.
It means Liverpool have now failed to beat four of the bottom six sides, drawing with Brighton and Fulham as well as the two already mentioned.
Every time they seem to look likely to go on a big run, they seem to falter.
They started the season with three wins in a row against Leeds, Chelsea and Arsenal before being thumped by Aston Villa and drawing with Everton. They then beat Sheffield United and West Ham before drawing with Manchester City.
It seems to be a pattern that is forming, where they struggle to maintain the intensity for more than three games in a row. In fact, they haven’t won more than three league games in a row at any point this season.
With just two wins in their last six games in all competitions, their lead at the top of the Premier League is currently at three points but second placed Manchester United have a game in hand currently.
Their primary tactic of bypassing the midfield by using their full-backs’ crossing ability and the high intensity attack of Mane, Salah and Firmino forcing errors and finishing clinically has struggled with the hectic schedule.
Obviously injuries won’t have helped throughout the season, but they’ve generally done well. They’re not in a crisis or anything of the sort, but throwing away points in games like these is something they haven’t done in several years under Klopp.
It may be time for the German coach to switch up his style slightly and take a page out of the book of Pep Guardiola’s Man City team.
The Catalan coach has slowed his team down and focused more on not conceding rather than pummelling sides, and while the lack of intensity has made them hard to watch it has been effective.
Klopp’s squad is strong and more than capable of playing their usual style through injuries, but with the schedule as crazy as it is a more reserved style may be needed for the quality to shine through.
It’s not often the most important player in arguably the best team in the world starts talking about leaving the club, but that’s what seems to be happening at Anfield right now.
After three stunning seasons at Liverpool Mohamed Salah has begun flirting with a move to Spain’s La Liga, with Barcelona and Real Madrid reportedly in his sights.
During a recent interview with AS, Salah dropped the infamous “you never know what the future holds” line when asked about a potential move to one of the Spanish giants. A few days later, his Egypt international teammate Mohamed Aboutrika revealed that Salah was ‘unhappy’ at Liverpool, although club sources have since denied that is the case.
So what is the deal between club and player?
From an outside perspective, it certainly seems like Salah being unhappy at champions and league leaders Liverpool is an unlikely scenario.
He is the main man in the attack, the talisman and adored by fans and media alike. He’s getting individual accolades as well as winning trophies with the team, under a manager who plays football that suits him and the team is still competing on all fronts.
Real Madrid and Barcelona have also both been linked with moves for younger targets than Salah, with the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland at the top of their wishlists.
The fee that would likely get Salah away from Liverpool is likely to be in the nine-figure region. But with the former Roma man turning 29 before next season, that fee is incredibly high for someone with not many years left in the prime of their career.
Salah is a player who obviously relies heavily on his physical attributes and it’s only natural that he will start to slow down as he gets older.
Currently his contract with Liverpool is due to expire in 2023, after he renewed his deal in 2018 on improved terms from his original contract. It’s reported that Salah currently earns around £200,000 per-week, which when you consider the wages the top players at other top clubs earn it’s probably a little on the low side.
The most likely scenario is that Salah wants another new contract, to reflect his performances over the years and stature in the world game.
Liverpool will surely offer him a new deal, but whether it matches what Salah wants to earn (reportedly around £300,000 per-week) is unknown.
The Reds could potentially be tempted by a sale though, should an offer of around £100m come in for him. As mentioned, Salah is entering the end of his physical prime now and with how much he relies on those physical attributes it’s possible that we’ll start to see a decline.
As good as he has been, we have already seen that Salah’s numbers have dropped every season since he joined Liverpool – although that isn’t necessarily difficult considering just how good his debut season was.
With so many top, young attackers in the world game right now, Klopp could be tempted to part with his talisman for a crazy fee if a replacement could be found.
The likes of Mbappe, Haaland, Ansu Fati, Jadon Sancho and others have all taken the game by storm in the last 12-18 months and if Liverpool could bring one of those in as a straight replacement for Salah the likelihood is that the squad wouldn’t suffer too much.
It’s a decision to make for both parties and definitely one that will be interesting to keep an eye on. Until then though, Salah will keep scoring goals because that’s just what he does.