When: Tuesday February 16 15:00 EDT
Location: Puskás Aréna, Budapest, Hungary
Referee: Slavko Vinčić (SVN)
Shockingly, this will be the first meeting between the Reds and RB Leipzig.
In terms of pedigree in this competition, there could hardly be more of a difference between the SIX-time European champions and the German club which hasn’t been around a dozen years yet. Following their run to the semi-finals last season it is easy to forget that this is only Leipzig’s third Champions League campaign, and second experience of the knockout rounds.
Last year, RBL swept the Reds’ domestic rivals Tottenham Hotspur aside at this stage, before going on to beat Liverpool’s last-16 conquerors Atletico Madrid, and this term they also managed to qualify from a very difficult group, needing a 3-2 triumph over Manchester United on matchday six to secure their place in the knockout rounds. One hint of hope for the Scousers is that Leipzig conceded 12 goals in the group stage – the worst record of any team left in the competition.
Recent Form (All Competitions)
W (TOT) – W (WHU) – L (BHA) – L (MCI) – L (LEI)
L (MAI) – W (B04) – W (BOC) – W (S04) – W (AUG)
Injuries & Suspensions
And I thought it was bad during the group stages…
The usual suspects are all out: Virgil Van Dijk (knee), Joe Gomez (knee), Joel Matip (ankle ligament), Diogo Jota (knee). This week, James Milner (Hamstring) joins them on the bench. Fabinho was ruled out this weekend against Leicester and has been absent from trainings still. Caiominh Kelleher has also been absent from trainings since the game against Brighton. Naby Keita was spotted in training this week but we will have to see if he is match fit for Tuesday – I personally doubt he will play.
Julian Nagelsmann rested Marcel Sabitzer, Dayot Upamecano and Alexander Sorloth in their game against Augsburg this weekend, so they should be good to go. Emil Forsberg (knee) continues to be unavailable, as are Dominik Szoboszlai, Konrad Laimer and Benjamin Henrichs. Justin Kluivert was on the bench against Augsburg, so he will probably be available when they take on Liverpool.
Squad Changes (from knockout rounds)
In: Ben Davies, Ozan Kabak, Nathaniel Phillips
Out: Harvey Elliott, Joël Matip, Takumi Minamino
In: Dominik Szoboszlai
Out: Dennis Borkowski, Eric Martel, Tim Schreiber, Philipp Tschauner
I have been a little frustrated with the team selections since Klopp through an unnecessary monkey wrench into the season by playing Jota, Salah, and a bunch of starters in the deadest of dead rubbers against Midtjylland the last UCL Game. If you recall, we lost Jota since that match and have been struggling on the pitch ever since. Therefore, I’m going to put out what I think Klopp will put out there, not what I think is our best team…
The standard 4-3-3… because why not? Alisson gets another start at goal, because Keller has been absent and Adrian cannot play with the ball at his feet. Really think (read: hope) the brain fog from his COVID diagnosis has caused him to make mistakes the past couple of matches, and he can shake it off and perform moving forward. With Fabinho likely out, we see Kabak in central defense, partnered with Jordan Henderson. I would absolutely LOVE to start new signing Ben Davies here, so Henderson can move to the midfield to shore it up and give us some leadership in the middle of the pitch. Realistically, I don’t see Klopp making this call until at least Sheffield, so that Kabak can get settled and provide us with some continuity rather than going with with a 14th unique CB pairing already this year. Trusty wingmen Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson will reprise their roles on the outside.
Our midfield options are short too these days, with Milner, Henderson, and Fabinho all unavailable through injury, either directly, or indirectly via substitution in Hendo’s case. Our strongest regular starter left, Gini Wijnaldum, will anchor the midfield flanked by Curtis Jones and Shaqiri. Thiago may get the start over Shaqiri, but Thiago has been subpar since coming back from his injury, and is almost guaranteed a rash challenge. Shaqiri could pick apart teams in Europe with his passing, though…
Up top, the front three will be hoping to get into a rhythm, with Mane and Salah on either side of Firmino.
I think we’ll see a 3-1-4-2 for Leipzig, with their center backs line matched up one-to-one against our front three and the wing-backs pushing up high to try to pin back Trent and Robbo
It is hard to be bullish on the Reds at the moment. Liverpool have been in an absolutely dreadful run of form, while RB Leipzig have had the perfect run of results in the buildup to this matchup.
Away from home with an injury-depleted squad, Liverpool will find it difficult to get the better of their opposition on Tuesday. The two glimmers of hope: 1) None of Leipzig’s previous 22 Champions League games has ended goalless; and 2) the German club have been denied home advantage (via COVID restrictions in Germany). The neutral venue should give Liverpool a slight advantage over the tie as a whole, but the form book firmly points at a Leipzig victory in this match.
I say: Leipzig 3-2 Liverpool. I cannot always back the boys to win. I hope I am wrong and we see a complete performance from the lads, but I expect them to return to Merseyside with a deficit to overturn in the second leg at Anfield next month.