Liverpool are looking to right the wrongs when they take on RB Leipzig in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash on Tuesday.
The UEFA Champions League gets back underway this midweek as Liverpool kick off the knockout rounds with a trip to Hungary as they face RB Leipzig at the Puskas Arena. For the Reds, it is an opportunity to redeem themselves following a disastrous start to 2021 that has almost ruled them out of the Premier League race.
Jurgen Klopp’s situation turned from bad to worse when his side lost to Leicester City on the weekend. Desperate for an upturn of fortunes, Liverpool are hoping for nothing less than a victory this midweek, knowing a good performance in the Champions League this campaign could go a long way in boosting the morale of the players as well as the fans.
For Leipzig, it is an opportunity to further announce themselves as the second-best club in Germany. Their unprecedented success under Julian Nagelsmann may have gone unnoticed due to Bayern Munich’s unrivalled glory over the past 12 months, Die Roten Bullen are the most dangerous opponents Liverpool could have possibly hoped for.
Nagelsmann has fallen to Klopp in the past, notably losing by a 6-3 aggregate in 2017, when he was in charge of TSG Hoffenheim. But don’t expect the lightning to strike twice, with the German tactician now in charge of a much stronger, and complete Leipzig setup that has consistently challenged Bayern in recent years.
It indeed promises to be a fascinating encounter and here, at the Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at the two teams before their clash at the iconic Puskas Arena in Hungary this midweek.
Tactics & Team News
This is technically a home match for RB Leipzig, who couldn’t play at the Red Bull Arena due to government restrictions surrounding Covid-19. The away goal rule, unfortunately, is still in place, which means Nagelsmann’s men need to remain cautious in their approach as overturning any lead at Anfield is always a difficult job regardless of Liverpool’s form.
Die Roten Bullen sind in Budapest 🇭🇺gelandet 🛬 pic.twitter.com/yT8emqyDmC
— Die Roten Bullen (@DieRotenBullen) February 15, 2021
On a brighter note, Leipzig do have a plethora of top-class defenders at their disposal, with Dayot Upamecano undeniably among the best. The Frenchman has been instrumental in the club’s marvellous defensive record this term, and though he is set to join FC Bayern in the summer, his contributions alongside Ibrahima Konate and Willi Orban should be vital as Leipzig hope to retain their clean sheet.
It will be a special game for Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi, who used to play for Liverpool earlier in his career. A clean sheet on Tuesday could be an ideal result for the Hungarian international, who will also be playing in his hometown of Budapest.
In a game where Liverpool are likely to dominate possession, Nagelsmann’s primary strategy should revolve around the idea of fast counter-attacks with wingbacks Nordi Mukiele and Angelino looking to exploit the opposition’s patchwork defence that could crumble very easily under severe pressure.
The Bundesliga giants are also likely to adopt a high-intensity press, looking to prevent the Liverpool midfielders from dictating the play. So the onus will be on the two central midfielders in Marcel Sabitzer and Kevin Kampl to provide that urgency in the second line of press, with Nagelsmann having Amadou Haidara as a potential alternative.
The continued absence of Emil Forsberg and Dominik Szoboszlai, meanwhile, should force Leipzig to once again rely on the creative output from Dani Olmo and Christopher Nkunku while the main number nine in Yussuf Poulsen is hoping to get on the end of one of the crosses from Angelino from the far side.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Gulacsi; Konate, Upamecano, Orban; Mukiele, Sabitzer, Kampl, Angelino; Olmo, Nkunku; Poulsen
Liverpool have had their fair share of troubles in penetrating opposing defences this season and this midweek, they will come up against one of the best in the business – serving Jurgen Klopp with an insurmountable challenge of not only breaching the Leipzig defence but also keep their attack at bay using a depleted defensive line.
The recent defeat to Leicester echoed a lot of problems the club was going through and with new signing Ben Davies ruled out, Klopp will once again rely on the services of Jordan Henderson and new signing Ozan Kabak at centre-back.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are set to continue as fullbacks, although the former could be in for a difficult time dealing with Angelino. He does indeed need to be careful of the space he leaves open when marauding forward, and it won’t be surprising to see Nagelsmann deploying the more versatile Marcel Halstenberg to combat the Englishman on the far side.
In midfield, Thiago Alcantara’s exposure to playing in the Bundesliga could be critical. The Spaniard is well aware of Leipzig’s high press and his ability to navigate through the press makes him an invaluable asset for Liverpool heading into this game. His midfield partners Georginio Wijnaldum and Curtis Jones will be assigned a more direct role, with occasional driving runs into the final third.
It remains unlikely Klopp will revert to a three-man backline due to a lack of defensive options, but minimal changes are expected in attack either way, as the Reds rely on the services of their offensive trifecta of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Kabak, Henderson, Robertson; Thiago, Wijnaldum, Jones; Salah, Firmino, Mane
- This is RB Leipzig’s third Champions League campaign, all in the last four seasons, and their fourth in Europe overall. They are playing in the Champions League knockout rounds for the second successive year.
- RB Leipzig won all three of their home games in Group H, beating Istanbul Baseksehir 2-0, PSG 2-1 and Manchester United 3-2.
- RB Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi was on the books at Liverpool between 2007 and 2013 but did not make a first-team appearance.
- Liverpool are in the Champions League for the 13th time. They won the competition for the sixth time in 2018/19.
- Liverpool exited the 2019/20 competition in the last-16 to Atletico Madrid, whom Leipzig proceeded to beat 2-1 in their one-legged quarter-final in Lisbon.
Player to Watch
🚨 CONFIRMED: Angelino will join RB Leipzig from Man City on a four-year contract in the summer 🤝 pic.twitter.com/QXcrTW6lTV
— Goal (@goal) February 12, 2021
While RB Leipzig had to suffer the loss of impending loss of Upamecano recently, as the Frenchman decided to join Bayern Munich in the summer, they were boosted by the acquisition of Angelino, who has now joined the club on a permanent deal from Manchester City, with his new contract running until 2025.
The Spaniard is now hoping to repay the faith by making an impression against Liverpool, whose depleted defensive line serves as an ideal opportunity for the fullback to impose his authority in the game.
Indeed, Angelino will look to exploit the space left behind by the marauding Alexander-Arnold, and whip in crosses into the box for the likes of Poulsen or Alexander Sorloth. Preventing him from doing so could be imperative for Liverpool’s part if they are to keep Leipzig at bay this midweek.
RB Leipzig 1-1 Liverpool
RB Leipzig are the undisputed favourites heading into this game, owing to Liverpool’s injury crisis that could see them without at least ten first-team players heading into this game. The Reds’ problems in penetration the opposing line should also make it difficult for them to dominate this game, with Leipzig boasting one of the best defensive units in Europe.
That said, Nagelsmann’s men have appeared unusually incompetent at times this season. It was evident in the loss over Mainz and Manchester United earlier in the campaign, so it is a very difficult game to predict. We are expecting a 1-1 draw in a game that is likely to be a cagey yet entertaining affair.