Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane were both on target as Liverpool returned to form with a much-needed 2-0 victory over RB Leipzig in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 clash.
The Premier League champions have been a shadow of their former selves in recent weeks, leading Klopp to admit their league title defence was over following a third straight loss at Leicester at the weekend.
However, the Merseysiders looked sharp and hungry from the first whistle in Budapest and went close through Salah, Mane and Andy Robertson in what was a dominant first-half showing.
)Mohamed Salah of Liverpool celebrates after scoring the first goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at Puskas Arena on February 16, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary
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In-form Leipzig, who were having to host the contest in Hungary as a result of COVID-19 travel restrictions, were on the back foot for long spells but did see an early Dani Olmo header come back off the post.
Liverpool continued to press and cause problems in the second period and eventually got their reward on 53 minutes. Salah pounced on an error from Marcel Sabitzer to run through and drill home his 24th goal of the season. It was the Egyptian’s seventh goal in seven games and saw him become the club’s 13th highest scorer in history with 118 in total.
The visitors then doubled their advantage just five minutes later. This time Mane took advantage of Nordi Mukiele’s misjudgement to charge clear and claim his 11th goal of the campaign and his 20th in all European competitions for the club.
Leipzig pressed to try and reduce the arrears in the latter stages but couldn’t find a way through a determined visiting defence.
Liverpool will now look towards the small matter of Saturday’s Merseyside derby at home to Everton in a more confident mood. The second leg with Leipzig will take place at home on March 10 with Klopp’s men now heavy favourites to progress.
Liverpool and Klopp needed that. This was much more like it from Liverpool. There was a real urgency and a desire to win the ball deep in Leipzig territory which eventually led to their two goals. There was more pace in their attacks and, although Leipzig wasted a couple of big chances, the patched-up defence led by Jordan Henderson and new recruit, Ozan Kabak looked well-organised when under pressure late on.
Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates after scoring their side's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at Puskas Arena on February 16, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary
Image credit: Getty Images
The Premier League title seems long gone, but Klopp’s men still need to push for the top four and this type of victory will give them a significant boost on that front too. In terms of trophies, it’s Champions League or bust and that still seems a long shot. But if they continue to produce displays like this they could yet be dark horses. There is very much a make-shift feel to the team at present, but if the Reds can stay in the hunt, who knows who could be available to return from injury in the latter stages of this tournament. They still need to finish off Leipzig at Anfield, but this will give them belief as they bid to put a run together following a wretched spell.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Mohamed Salah (Liverpool). The forward once again proved his match-winning qualities. He was a real nuisance throughout and will have been disappointed not to have notched in the first half. Showed real composure to open the scoring and worked hard for the side all night.
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool celebrates after scoring their side's first goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 match between RB Leipzig and Liverpool FC at Puskas Arena on February 16, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary
5’ – RB LEIPZIG CHANCE! Angelino picks out Dani Olmo with a lovely ball from the left, but his header smacks the foot of Alisson's right post and bounces to safety.
15’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Gulacsi makes a crucial block with his face after Salah had surged on to Alexander Arnold's sublime pass and looked to finish with a dink. Liverpool come again but Firmino can only slam a shot into the side netting from a good position on the right.
32’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Robertson skims the top of the net with a 40-yard chip. Gulacsi had initially raced off his line to deny Mane a free run at goal but was then almost caught out by Robertson's audacious effort.
36’ – LIVERPOOL GOAL CHALKED OFF! Liverpool think they have scored but the referee says the ball had gone out. Mane has two bites at the cherry with shots at goal. He then fights to keep the ball in play near the left byline and somehow stretches to hook it back for Firmino to nod in. The flag is up though and the ball is adjudged to have gone behind. It’s very close, but looks like the right call.
47’ – RB LEIPZIG CHANCE! Alisson produces a magnificent save to keep out Nkunku's shot after the forward had burst beyond Henderson.
53’ - GOAL! – RB Leipzig 0-1 Liverpool. Salah latches on to an error at the back from Marcel Sabitzer, races clear and thumps the opener beyond Gulacsi.
58’ - GOAL! – RB Leipzig 0-2 Liverpool. Mane races clear and coolly fires into the corner after another error, this time from Mukiele.
90+3’ – RB LEIPZIG CHANCE! Hwang has a huge chance to pull a goal back but lifts his effort past the far post after a lovely run in-behind Henderson saw him get free on the right side of the box.
Mané has scored 20 goals in all European competitions for Liverpool, becoming only the fifth player in the club's history to reach that total.
Amongst all players within the top-five European leagues, only Robert Lewandowksi (30) has scored more goals in all competitions this season than Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah (24).
Since Jürgen Klopp took charge of his first UEFA Champions League match at Liverpool in September 2017, the Reds have registered more clean sheets in the competition than any other side (18).