Second-half goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane four minutes apart were enough in Budapest’s Ferenc Puskász Arena to give Liverpool a home victory in the round of 16 clash, which lasted 180 minutes in the Hungarian capital due to KOVID-19 exit restrictions forcing the two matches to be played outside England and Germany.
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Despite Liverpool’s poor form at home, which leaves them eighth in the Premier League after six defeats at Anfield and seven points clear of the Champions League, Europe is once again a haven for the six-time Champions League winners.
But today he has more to offer Liverpool FC than a welcome distraction in an embarrassing defence of the Premier League title. Realistically, winning the Champions League is their best hope of playing in the league again next season.
Rafael Benitez’s Liverpool finished fifth in Champions League qualifying in 2005, but won the European Cup in Istanbul against AC Milan (3-0 at half-time) to secure a place in the following season’s tournament.
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Although this Liverpool team had some excellent players like Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Jamie Carragher, it was certainly not one of the best teams in the club’s glorious history. But he overcame the odds and Juventus and Chelsea reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals in one of the most memorable victories in Champions League history.
The fact that this season’s final will also be held in Istanbul, a year after the pandemic forced him to move to the Turkish city, will no doubt encourage many Liverpool players to believe that the omens are on their side. Liverpool also beat Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 in 2005. Maybe the stars are aligning again.
But romanticism aside, and looking for comparisons between now and 2005, is it legitimate to believe that this Liverpool team can go all out and win the Champions League for the seventh time this season?
After reaching the finals in 2018 and 2019 and winning in 2019, Klopp’s team certainly knows how to get through the knockout stages. Klopp also led Liverpool to the 2016 Europa League final, so this group of players has a pedigree in European competitions.
But the injuries that derailed their Premier League title defence also threaten their participation in the Champions League.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp (centre) celebrates with his players after the Champions League win over RB Leipzig. Getty Images
Injuries are disrupting Klopp’s team and the loss of Virgil van Dijk to a season-ending knee injury is the biggest. Another major setback is that Jordan Henderson has been placed on the injury list after undergoing groin surgery and the midfielder and captain will be out until mid-April.
Liverpool’s defence is a weak link in the Premier League, but they kept the zero against Leipzig in both games.
It remains to be seen if they can do so against one of the most feared attacking teams in Europe.
Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips kept Leipzig calm in Budapest, but both players lack the experience and quality to do the same against Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City.
In midfield, the return of Fabinho at least made Liverpool stronger against Leipzig. The Brazilian has excelled as a makeshift central defender this season, but he has lacked energy and tenacity in midfield. If Klopp can keep Fabinho in a better position, Liverpool can compete with the top teams.
If that’s the case, Salah and Mané have shown they can score against any opponent in Europe, so Liverpool can still hold out hope of coming out on top in this competition.
A favourable draw in the quarter-finals next week could open the door to Istanbul, but the absence of fans at Anfield will rob Liverpool of one of their biggest assets on the European night.
It also remains to be seen whether Klopp’s side will be able to stubbornly defend their lead or hold on for 180 minutes to beat a stronger team. Benitez has cleverly set his team up for this, but the suspicion is that Klopp’s team is just not built to control and frustrate the game.
But for all its faults and problems, Liverpool are still in the Champions League. They are in the quarter-finals and all they can do is go to Istanbul, because that is the only way they can save their season.
Liverpool may not have enough depth, but that didn’t stop him in 2005. Maybe Istanbul will call after all.
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