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Entering their Champions League round of 16 first leg against RB Leipzig, Liverpool had reached their lowest point of the Jurgen Klopp era.
His self-implosion in the 3-1 loss to Leicester last time out summed up everything bad at Anfield right now. Confidence is low, fatigue is high, and there is a growing sense that this brilliant team is reaching the end of its dominance cycle.
Fortunately, Leipzig felt sorry for the Reds on Tuesday night, gifting them not one, but two goals in the second half.
The first culprit was Marcel Sabitzer; Taking advantage of a loose ball in midfield, the Austrian attempted a seemingly basic ten-yard pass to Lukas Klostermann and was wrong, too bad.
With the pass half a meter behind the clumsy central defender, Mohamed Salah sniffed the opportunity and lunged for the ball out of place, before calmly passing Peter Gulacsi.
This mistake clearly gave Leipzig an appetite for self-destruction, as minutes later the highly rated young center-back Nordi Mukiele was guilty of an even more egregious mistake. There were a thousand acceptable ways Mukiele could have dealt with Curtis Jones’ innocuous long ball; none of them involved falling backwards like a Sunday league fisherman still sweating the six pints they enjoyed the night before, and being left there in one hit when his opponent ran off.
Sadio Mane would benefit this time, running loose before passing the ball through Gulacsi and into the back of the net.
These two errors were indicative of Leipzig’s strange performance. Recently Die Roten Bullen has been playing well. They have made a genuine claim to be Germany’s new “second” team this season and have only lost twice in their last 17 games in all competitions.
Against Liverpool they showed glimpses of their talent, with Dani Olmo hitting the post with an innovative dive header and Angeliño causing problems with his clever positioning. However, to a large extent, Leipzig seemed strangely nervous, especially in the back.
This manifested itself in a series of basic mistakes and few players had more problems than Dayot Upamecano, who earlier this week was revealed as David Alaba’s successor at Bayern Munich. Die Roten would have seen his display through his fingers, with the Frenchman routinely captured in possession and also guilty of an unforgivably loose pass, putting his team under unnecessary pressure.
Although Upamecano was particularly poor, his performance was indicative of Leipzig’s abundance of unforced errors.
The keyword here is not forced. While Liverpool pressed effectively on Tuesday night, it wasn’t about them strangling their opponents into submission, as they have done so many times before in Europe. A more accurate description would be that the Reds were handed the game on a silver platter due to Leipzig’s own incompetence.
While the confidence boost that victory will bring is much needed, Liverpool must not get ahead of themselves. This tie is far from over, as there is no chance Leipzig will play that bad again when the two teams meet at Anfield for the return leg on 10 March.