Verdict: Total goals under 2.5
Best odds: 13/10
The time has come for the Champions League to resume after the winter break. The group stages are over, and the teams that have gotten through are now gearing up for the tough clashes ahead. The one between RB Leipzig and Liverpool will certainly be among the more interesting match-ups of the round of 16, and the first leg, in which the Bundesliga side are officially the hosts, will be played on Tuesday evening at the Ferenc Puskas Stadium in Budapest due to Covid-related restrictions imposed by the German government.
For the same reason, the rematch, set to take place on March 10th, is unlikely to be played at Anfield, but nothing has been officially confirmed as of yet.
Unlike Liverpool, Leipzig have only 11 years of history, being founded in 2009. Nonetheless, their rise since then has been nothing short of spectacular. They’ve been playing in the German top flight since earning promotion for the first time in 2016, and this is their third participation in the Champions League. Remarkable indeed.
They finished the group stage in second place in Group H, behind last season’s finalists Paris Saint-Germain, and ahead of Manchester United and Istanbul Basaksehir.
At the moment, Leipzig are on a great run of form. They won five of their last six matches in all competitions; 1-0 at home against Union Berlin, 1-0 at home against Bayer Leverkusen, 4-0 at home against VfL Bochum in the third round of the DFB-Pokal, 0-3 away to Schalke 04 and most recently, 2-1 at home against Augsburg. They now sit in second place in the Bundesliga table, with a tally of 44 points, which four short of leaders Bayern Munich who have a game in hand on them as well. They are, however, five points clear of Eintracht Frankfurt and Wolfsburg in third and fourth, respectively.
Coach Julian Nagelsmann will not be able to call upon right-back Benjamin Henrichs (lacking match fitness after overcoming knee problems), midfielder Konrad Laimer (ankle fracture), midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai (adductor problems, still to make club debut) and forward Emile Forsberg (knee).
Goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi will be facing his former club, having spent five years on the books at Liverpool without a competitive senior appearance.
Ibrahima Konate and Dayot Upamecano have both been linked with Liverpool recently, and while Konate still is, the transfer of Upamecano to Bayern Munich at the end of the season has already been agreed. Nonetheless, these two players will be in the heart of defence on Tuesday.
AS Roma loanee, winger Justin Kluivert, was on the bench against Augsburg having recovered from an ankle problem, but it remains to be seen if he’ll have a part to play against Liverpool.
Leipzig have been on great form, but things could hardly have been more different from the reigning Premier League champions. That title is now set to be handed over at the end of the season, most likely back to Manchester City who are now seven points clear at the top ahead of second-place Manchester United and third-place Leicester City, and no less than 13 ahead of Liverpool in fourth, while having a game in hand on all of them.
What brought this on the Merseysiders are mostly injuries, with all three designated centre-backs they had at the start of the season now out for the rest of it. The additions of Ozan Kabak on loan from Schalke and Ben Davies from Preston North End will likely play some part in rectifying the issue, but the two newcomers still have some way to go in terms of adapting to the game in England and Liverpool’s high defensive line. Midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have been filling the role for a long time now, but not without great detriment to the middle section of the team, and not without injury problems of their own.
Liverpool lost four of their last six games, five of which were in the league and one in the FA Cup. They were beaten by arch-rivals Manchester United away by 3-2 in the fifth cup round, after which came a brief respite in the form of 1-3 victories away to Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham, and then they were beaten 0-1 at home by Brighton and Hove Albion, 1-4 at home by Manchester City, and 3-1 away to Leicester on Saturday.
In the Champions League, Liverpool won Group D which also consisted of Atalanta, Ajax and Midtjylland.
So, Liverpool are without Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip for the remaining part of the season. Fabinho is also out at the moment, which means manager Jurgen Klopp is likely to deploy Henderson and Kabak as the centre-back pairing again, though he could give a chance to 23-year-old Nathaniel Phillips or 19-year-old Rhys Williams. Williams played regularly in the group stages and did reasonably well.
Midfielder Naby Keita has returned to team training after a long absence, but this game will come too soon for him, Klopp has confirmed. James Milner will also be missing, having left the Leicester game with a thigh issue only 17 minutes in. Striker Divock Origi is a doubt with the same problem, though he completed a team training session on Monday.
Alisson Becker made a number of high-profile mistakes, but he is still certain to keep his spot between the posts. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson should be covering the defensive flanks again. Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara are practically certain to start, with one of Curtis Jones, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri joining them in the middle of the park. Shaqiri could also play upfront, but it’s far more likely that it’ll be the usual trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah up there.
Liverpool will, as always, seek to take control of possession, but neither of the two teams will be charging forward too rashly from the start. A cautious approach from both sides is to be expected, with the tie far more likely to be resolved in the second leg.
Verdict: Total goals under 2.5
Best odds: 13/10
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