Fabinho (second from right) was UEFA’s man of the game for Wednesday’s game
Fabinho is “one of the best in the world in sixth place,” said Jurgen Klopp after the Brazilian helped Liverpool beat RB Leipzig to advance to the Champions League quarter-finals.
The 27-year-old midfielder had to play in the center-back for much of the season due to injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, but he also suffered from a number of personal fitness problems.
But he returned to his preferred position in the center of the Reds’ midfield and topped the second leg win against Leipzig in the round of 16, secured by goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in the second half.
It maintains the club’s hopes for a second European title in three seasons at the end of a season in which title defense fell apart after a string of home defeats.
“The performance and the level we played tonight were really good and necessary,” said Liverpool manager Klopp. “We did really well. In terms of defense [it] was really good. [The] The first three worked well together – but missed a few opportunities in the first half.
To Fabinho he said: “We have to see what solutions we can find for the next games – but number six is his position.
“We were hoping to keep him there for the season. He’s one of the best in the world in this position, that’s for sure – not just in terms of defense, but also in terms of performance. He’s like that for us important.”
At Budapest’s Puskas Arena, Liverpool were extremely wasteful for 70 minutes in front of goal but sealed the tie when Salah headed the bar after a Leipzig goal Alexander Sorloth.
Mane ensured absolute safety with a neat finish from Divock Origi’s excellent cross.
Klopp’s side will find out their last eight opponents when the draw takes place on Friday 19th March.
“The only reason you play in the Champions League is to win, but we’re not being silly,” Klopp continued live on BBC Radio 5.
“We’ll wait and see what’s possible and we’ll wait for the draw. It’ll be difficult whoever we get.”
“We are [dangerous opponents] but it’s actually nothing. I don’t want to make headlines about our hopes.
“We didn’t have any momentum in the Premier League but we have games to get that back and that would help us in the Champions League.”
Salah and Mane offer hope of salvation
The rapid, shocking decline in domestic form that Klopp’s side has been plaguing recently means lifting the Champions League trophy next season looks more like a likely path back into competition.
Six home defeats in Spin have put Liverpool in eighth place, seven points from fourth.
During that run, they saw a shadow of the side that completely dominated the English top division in 2019-20, with widely publicized injuries and the resultant mixing of a sedentary side that stripped them of coherence and confidence.
Wednesday’s ad was a welcome step in the right direction for the Reds.
Central defense retained an inevitable rookie feel, but the presence of Fabinho alongside Thiago and Diogo Jota in attack gave Liverpool more solidity, smoothness and attack threat.
That said, they could make their life a lot easier by taking advantage of some of the multiple opportunities they create.
Salah, Mane and Jota all had great chances of putting the tie to bed before the break, but were either rejected by Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi or missed the target altogether.
Salah was particularly to blame when he saw a shot saved after a breakthrough before later firing at close range after Trent Alexander-Arnold’s neat retreat.
They were lucky that the German team – such successful scorers in the Bundesliga – were just as wasteful.
Hindered by the absence of the injured Angelino, Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann spent the second half sending the bench forward onto the field, including Justin Kluivert, son of former Dutch striker Patrick, but to no avail.
The fight left them the moment Salah’s low shot hit the net and Mane took advantage of it shortly thereafter.
The duo’s return to scoring form was timely in the context of this game, but above all for the entire season of the Reds, which can still be saved.
“The result will help, but we know Monday at Wolves [in the Premier League] is a different game, “added Klopp.” If we play like this tonight, it will be a problem for the wolves.
“Today’s game was a summary of our season. We are good, we created chances and we didn’t finish all of them.”
Klopp makes it 12 out of 13 in knockout ties
- In all European competitions under Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool have prevailed in 12 of their 13 two-legged knockout games (including qualifying) and only failed against Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of last season.
- Liverpool have remained undefeated in their last twelve meetings with German opponents in all European competitions (nine won, three drawn) since a 2-4 defeat by Bayer Leverkusen in April 2002.
- RB Leipzig only lost two games in a row in European competition for the second time (also in November 2018) and for the first time in the Champions League.
- Liverpool won both legs of a two-legged Champions League knockout draw and, for the first time since the 2008-09 round of 16 against Real Madrid, remained clean in every leg.
- RB Leipzig have won three games and lost only one of their first four encounters with English teams in all competitions (two against Spurs, two against Manchester United) and lost both of the last two against Liverpool.
- Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has scored 25 goals in all competitions this season, the most of any player in any Premier League club.
- Since Alisson from Liverpool made his Champions League debut in September 2017, the Brazilian has conceded more goals in competition than any other goalkeeper (16).
Player of the game
- 26thRobertsonReplaced byTsimikasat the 90 ‘protocol
- 6thThiago AlcantaraReplaced byKeitaat the 71 ‘protocol
- 5WijnaldumReplaced byMilnerat the 82 ‘protocol
- 11Not correct
- 20thWhomReplaced byOrigat the 71 ‘protocol
- 10maneReplaced byOxlade-Chamberlainat the 90 ‘protocol
- 46R Williams
- 76N Williams
- 44KamplReplaced bySørlothat the 45 ‘protocol
- 25thOlmoReplaced byHaidaraat the 72 ‘protocol
- 9PoulsenReplaced byHwang Hee-chanat the 60 ‘protocol
- 10ForsbergReplaced byKluivertat the 60 ‘protocol
- 11Hwang Hee-chan
End of game, Liverpool 2, RB Leipzig 0.
The second half ends, Liverpool 2, RB Leipzig 0.
Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Naby Keita (Liverpool).
Missed attempt. Konstantinos Tsimikas (Liverpool) left footed shot from outside the box goes up and wide to the left.
Substitution, Liverpool. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaces Sadio Mané.
Substitution, Liverpool. Konstantinos Tsimikas replaces Andrew Robertson.
Corner of Liverpool. The corner was caused by Christopher Nkunku.
Away from Liverpool. Andrew Robertson attempts a pass, but Divock Origi is caught offside.
Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool).
Corner of Liverpool. The corner was caused by Dayot Upamecano.
Attempt blocked. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) left footed shot from the center of the box is blocked. Prepared by Naby Keita.
Amadou Haidara (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by James Milner (Liverpool).
Missed attempt. Divock Origi (Liverpool) right footed shot from the left side of the box is close but misses to the left. Prepared by Naby Keita.
Substitution, Liverpool. James Milner replaces Georginio Wijnaldum.
Missed attempt. Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig) left footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the left. Prepared by Christopher Nkunku.
Away from Liverpool. Trent Alexander-Arnold attempts a pass, but Sadio Mané is caught offside.
Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig) wins a free kick in the defensive half.