Liverpool will be under the microscope once again as they face RB Leipzig in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Wednesday.
Following six back-to-back defeats in Anfield, Liverpool’s future under Jurgen Klopp has come under heavy scrutiny – further fueled by Rangers’ sensational triumph in the Scottish Premiership under Steven Gerrard, who is one of the top contenders to replace the German tactician.
Unfortunately, Klopp’s job won’t be made any easier as they lock horns with RB Leipzig on Wednesday in what serves as the second leg of the Round of 16 clash in the UEFA Champions League.
Liverpool do hold the advantage heading into this game, having secured a 2-0 win in the first-leg, which was also played in the Puskas Arena, in Budapest, Hungary. It essentially means that Leipzig have to score at least three goals an Anfield if they are to advance through to the next round.
Yet, Julian Nagelsmann should remain confident of his side’s chances of overturning this two-goal deficit due to Liverpool’s crumbling form, coupled with his side’s own run of performances in recent weeks.
Indeed, the Bundesliga giants have scored at least three goals in three of their last four matches since the 2-0 defeat, with their latest triumph coming against SC Freiburg on the weekend.
Here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this fascinating contest in the UEFA Champions League this midweek.
Tactics & Team News
Liverpool missed out on the services of Ozan Kabak in their recent defeat to Fulham, forcing Klopp to opt for Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams to start at centre-back.
This time around, Fabinho could be recalled after being given a breather, with the Brazilian’s experience and game-reading qualities set to play a key role at the heart of the LFC backline. He will be partnered by Phillips in case Kabak fails to recover in time this midweek.
Faces of focus 💯 pic.twitter.com/tvNSlxu6Um
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 9, 2021
Further changes in the backline should see Trent Alexander-Arnold replacing Neco Williams at right-back. Andrew Robertson and Alisson, though, are guaranteed to continue in their respective positions.
Moving forward, Jurgen Klopp could be tempted to start with Naby Keita who was one of their better performers in the defeat to Fulham.
Struggling with injuries for the most part of his career at Anfield, the Guinean international could be desperate to perform against his former side, making him the favourite to start alongside Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago in the three-man Liverpool midfield.
It will be interesting to see how Keita navigates through Leipzig’s second line of press, especially against some of his former teammates including Sabitzer and Kampl.
And finally, in the attacking unit, Roberto Firmino was a major absentee against Fulham while Sadio Mane was on the bench, likely in view of this important encounter against RB Leipzig.
Firmino remains a doubt due to his knock, which means Diogo Jota may continue in the three-man LFC attack, alongside Mohamed Salah and Mane.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Phillips, Fabinho, Robertson; Thiago, Wijnaldum, Keita; Jota, Mane
RB Leipzig lost the first leg more than Liverpool won, with two individual mistakes leading the unnecessary goals. Julian Nagelsmann’s men are hoping to avoid a similar scenario but the coach has no reason whatsoever to tinker with his tried and tested 3-4-2-1 formation that should offer him a lot of assurance in possession.
Welcome to Budapest 🤜🤛 pic.twitter.com/yCelVn8GEE
— Die Roten Bullen (@DieRotenBullen) March 9, 2021
Angelino, unfortunately, has been ruled out due to his injury problems. On the bright side, though, Marcel Halstenberg and club captain Marcel Sabitzer are both in contention to start with the latter likely to feature in midfield alongside Kevin Kampl at the base of the 3-4-2-1.
Amadou Haidara, meanwhile, is the likely deputy for Angelino in the left-wingback role, with Tyler Adams maintaining his place on the opposite flank, looking to exploit the patchwork Liverpool defence with their marauding runs into the opposition half, although Adams could operate in a deeper role.
As for Haidara, it won’t be surprising to see him operate alongside the playmakers in Dani Olmo and Christopher Nkunku in a free-flowing attacking setup, while the in-form Alexander Sorloth remains favourite to spearhead the Leipzig attack, ahead of the long-serving Yussuf Poulsen.
Both the attacker specializes in physical and aerial prowess, meaning they could be a menace for Liverpool from set-pieces. Another such threat in those kinds of situations is Dayot Upamecano.
The defensive leader of RB Leipzig, though, will primarily look to avoid making any errors at the back, and help his team retain a clean sheet that will be invaluable in the context of this tie.
The Bayern Munich bound centre-back is set to be partnered by Lukas Klostermann and Ibrahima Konate, both of who had made errors in the first-leg. So it will be interesting to see whether it will force Julian Nagelsmann to opt for the experienced Willi Orban this time around.
Probable Lineup (3-4-2-1): Gulacsi; Mukiele, Upamecano, Klostermann; Adams, Sabitzer, Kampl, Haidara; Olmo, Nkunku; Poulsen
- 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.
- Like Angelino, Leipzig attacking midfielder Christopher Nkunku also has seven goals in all competitions this season, including four across his last nine outings.
- 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.
- Klopp was a beaten finalist with Liverpool in 2017/18, and in 2012/13 when his Borussia Dortmund side lost the first all-German final 2-1 to Bayern at Wembley Stadium.
Player to Watch
🇫🇷 Christopher Nkunku has now been involved in 4 goals (⚽️2⃣,🅰️2⃣) in his last 2 league games 😎 pic.twitter.com/6es4ZavIlk
— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) March 8, 2021
In a game where Leipzig are expected to come out all guns blazing, Christopher Nkunku is set to play a vital role for the visitors in their attempts to break down the depleted Liverpool backline.
The former PSG attacker was one of the star performers in Leipzig’s recent win over Freiburg. It could be different against Liverpool, with Nkunku likely to cause a menace for the backline with his marauding runs and excellent technical awareness.
The Frenchman is also capable of releasing very useful forward balls – making it easier for his team to find themselves in good positions. Alexander Sorloth, in particular, is hoping for some quality support from Nkunku this midweek as the duo look to continue their fiery form in front of goal.
Liverpool 1-3 RB Leipzig
After being handed the victory in the first leg, Liverpool have to brace themselves against the coming storm from Leipzig. The brilliant form of players like Sorloth, Nkunku and Kampl, coupled with the return of Emil Forsberg doesn’t bode well for the Reds either as Jurgen Klopp continues to have his star players out injured.
We do expect the Reds to breach the Leipzig defence at least once, but the free-scoring Roten Bullen side are likely to come out as victors, with Sorloth and Nkunku likely to emerge as the main protagonists for the German club.