Liverpool beats Leipzig to reach Champions League quarterfinals

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane score as Liverpool completes a 4-0 aggregate win over RB Leipzig.

Sadio Mane celebrates after scoring Liverpool’s second goal during the Champions League contest on Wednesday at the Puskas Arena stadium in Budapest, Hungary.   -  AP

With its Premier League title defence in tatters, Liverpool kept its last chance of a trophy alive by beating Leipzig 2-0 Wednesday to reach the Champions League quarterfinals.

MATCH CENTRE

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané scored Liverpool's goals to complete a 4-0 win on aggregate. Liverpool ended its run of six defeats in home games, at least technically, as Jürgen Klopp's team was officially the host at the neutral Puskas Arena in Hungary.

Klopp said Liverpool succeeded by forgetting about the collapse of its campaign in England, where the team is 25 points off the league lead. “We had to switch off the Premier League stuff to get here and give it a proper try. The boys really enjoyed themselves tonight which is important,” Klopp told broadcaster BT Sport.

A string of saves by goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi — once a Liverpool player — kept Leipzig in contention before Salah made the breakthrough in the 70th minute. Salah lined up a low shot tucked inside the right post after Diogo Jota showed smart movement on the counter to create space for Salah before passing to the Egypt forward.

As Leipzig — which surprisingly reached the semifinals last season — tried to find a way back into the game four minutes later, substitute Divock Origi found space on the right flank to cross low for Mané to tap in. The closest Leipzig came to scoring was when Alexander Sorloth headed against the crossbar in the 67th, before Liverpool responded with two goals to end the German team’s chances.

Defensive blunders

Just as in the first leg, Liverpool was gifted chances by defensive blunders. Leipzig has the fewest goals conceded of any team in the Bundesliga but couldn’t reproduce that form in Europe this season, conceding 16 times in eight games. “The best thing the boys did is nobody could really see how good Leipzig can be,” Klopp said. “We defended them really well because they are a monster usually. They’re so powerful and can run in behind, but we defended that really well.”

A long ball from Thiago Alcantara found Salah free behind the Leipzig defence in the 24th before Gulacsi parried away the Egyptian’s shot and Mané headed the rebound into the ground. Not long after, Diogo Jota beat Nordi Mukiele and found the Leipzig back line open in front of him before Gulacsi again saved.

 

At the other end, Alisson Becker stopped an early Leipzig attack, pushing away a shot from Dani Olmo in the 10th when Leipzig exploited Liverpool’s high defensive line to counter. Injury-hit Liverpool’s latest makeshift centre-back pairing of Ozan Kabak and Nathaniel Phillips largely held firm, though Emil Forsberg went close when he beat Phillips dragged a shot wide of the post late in the first half.

“We didn’t reach our best level of achievement today and so we don’t deserve to progress, however tough that may feel,” Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann told Sky Sport in Germany.

Both legs were played in Budapest because of restrictions in Germany on travel from Britain amid the pandemic. Liverpool was barred from entering Germany for the first leg, and Leipzig would have had to put its players in quarantine after returning from Britain if Liverpool had hosted at Anfield. The Hungarian capital is also hosting both of Manchester City’s last-16 matches against German club Borussia Mönchengladbach.