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Sport Liverpool vs. RB Leipzig: Three bold predictions for UEFA Champions League clash

11:16  29 march  2021
11:16  29 march  2021 Source:   cbssports.com

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Can the Champions League offer respite for a Liverpool side who have been battered and bruised by domestic opponents in 2021? Or will RB Leipzig make amends for the two errors that handed the Premier League champions victory in Budapest last time out?

a football player on a field: Mohamed Salah in Liverpool's 2-0 win over RB Leipizig © Provided by CBS Sports

Mohamed Salah in Liverpool's 2-0 win over RB Leipizig

It's time to make some bold predictions on how this intriguing round of 16 second leg tie will play out, and as always you can watch the action live only on Paramount+.

Liverpool will score...

Imagine this constituting a bold prediction even just a few months ago. This all-conquering Liverpool team, spearheaded still by the attacking trident of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, are going to score a goal and you are going to think that is noteworthy.

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Such has been the cataclysmic collapse in Liverpool's form since the start of 2021. In that time their record is 5-1-9 with 18 goals from 15 games. Scrub out an FA Cup campaign where they crushed Aston Villa's youth team and their record is a remarkable 12 scored from 13 matches. In seven home league games they have scored one goal.

Of course that is unacceptable for the English champions and a team who will aspire for a seventh European title but to an extent this is a highly unlikely set of events, a dry spell from Liverpool's forwards that cannot last forever. Their 10 Premier League goals since the turn of the year have come from shots with an expected goals (xG) value of 18.07. At home their scoring slump has been so remarkable as to be utterly unsustainable: 101 shots worth 7.09xG do not equate to only one goal in normal circumstances.

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They are creating chances, perhaps not at the rate of their best seasons, but they still take two-thirds of their shots in the box and are only taking one fewer open play shot on target this season than they did last. They may not quite be the force of their best years but Liverpool are not scrubs.

That is not to absolve their forwards of blame. Sadio Mane has missed a host of presentable chances since the turn of the year and seems to be missing his customary fizz and propulsion in possession, he looks slower and more hesitant. Still even a declining version of Liverpool's No.10 can do better with the chances that have come his way in 2021.

There are particular areas where this downswing has been pronounced and ought to be swiftly addressed. Liverpool have not done at all well with shots from what Opta terms medium or high pressure situations, i.e. when a defender is either close or very close to the ball striker when the effort is taken. Only Manchester City have taken more than the Reds' 132 such shots since the turn of the year but only Southampton have turned such situations into fewer goals than the three scored by Salah and Mane.

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Remarkably no team has been more wayward with these shots than Liverpool. Opta's shooting goals added metric - which measures the expected goals value after the shot has been taken and subtracts that from the likelihood that the shooting position will bring a goal before the ball is struck - ranks the reigning champions as the worst team in the league in medium and high pressure situations. In other words, no team is being let down by their shooting in these scenarios more than Klopp's, who subtract 4.73 shooting goals from the chances they create.

That simply cannot continue. Liverpool's forwards are too good to waste so many chances so dramatically for so long. They are getting into positions to score. That is perhaps the most challenging thing in the sport. Putting the ball in the net will come and there is no reason to think it will take too long.

...and RB Leipzig will be the ones handing the goal to them

In the days after the initial glow of a Liverpool win wore of there was much conversation about how the Reds might have got away with one there. The xG numbers were far closer than might be expected for a comprehensive 2-0 win with RB Leipzig coming in 1.32 to their opponents' 1.38. The possession balance was equally close and the Germans outshot their 'visitors' in Budapest by 12 to 10.

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But the reality is that RB Leipzig had had to cut loose late on, play more aggressively and ratchet up their shot frequency because of what they had inflicted on themselves in the second half of a game Liverpool were noticeably shading beforehand. First Marcel Sabitzer completely miscued a backpass to allow Salah to dart through and score. Five minutes later Nordi Mukiele hung his boot towards a high ball and failed to get a touch on it. Mane doubled the Reds' lead and may yet have killed off the tie.

Those two goals offered a healthy boost to RB Leipzig's error figures, which no-one in the Bundesliga or the Champions League would be keen to swap. In European competition no club matches their return of seven errors leading directly to goals over the past two seasons. They also lead the way in the German top flight over that same time period with 17 errors that have led to shots for opponents.

RB Leipzig errors in 19-20, 20-21 Bundesliga and Champions League

PlayerErrors leading to shotsErrors leading to goals

Peter Gulacsi

4

2

Nordi Mukiele

4

1

Dayot Upamecano

3

1

Lukas Klostermann

2

1

Marcel Halstenberg

2

0

Wili Orban

2

0

Amadou Haidara

1

0

Ibrahima Konate

1

0

Marcel Sabitzer

0

1

Ademola Lookman

0

1

On occasion these numbers can be nebulous. When can an error be said to have directly brought about a goal or a shot as opposed to the occasions when a defender probably could have snuffed out the danger but failed to do so? Regardless such heavy numbers speak to the reality of an RB Leipzig side packed with young talent who often need to learn by making mistakes. Mukiele is a fine prospect who will be better for the mistake he made last month. But he will also have discovered in the Champions League there is no hope that such errors go unpunished.

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Leipzig target weak point Alexander-Arnold

There's nothing that beats some good old fashioned fighting talk in the build up to a big game. Angelino has certainly offered plenty of that as he highlighted the weak point in this Liverpool side, their England international right-back.

"[Trent] Alexander-Arnold on the ball is unbelievable but he is too offensive. But that is his best [quality] so we have to exploit the weakness and hopefully we can get a few more chances like we did in the first game. That was our mistake that we did not put them away."

It is curious that Angelino should have come away from the first leg with the impression that Alexander-Arnold was in any way a weak point when he was as crucial as any player in swinging the tie Liverpool's direction. The right-back created four of his team's seven chances and was a force to be reckoned with in the final third. Not only did his dictating of play from the right side of midfield offer a crucial attacking boon to the Reds but it forced back RB Leipzig's marauding Spaniard, who functions as everything from a left back to a winger.

In a team that loves to share the goal scoring burden and is defined by its fluid formations it seems appropriate that the man signed as a left-back should lead their scoring charts, alongside Christopher Nkunku, with seven goals this season. Those he has scored have been of a type, either late darts into the box for overlapping crosses or the sort of shrewd movement into space whilst defenders are looking elsewhere that he showed in the home win over Istanbul Basaksehir in the group stages. They could have been a vital weapon against a Liverpool side who have looked far more vulnerable on their right without Jordan Henderson to shield the spaces in behind when Alexander-Arnold and Salah drive forward.

Leipzig will need someone else to do this with Angelino sidelined through a muscular injury that has meant he did not travel to Budapest with the rest of his team. If Julian Nagelsmann agrees with his player that Alexander-Arnold is the weak point then it will be intriguing to see whether he looks to attack it from the off with an even more attack-minded left-sided player. Nkunku generally features in the frontline but is comfortable off the left, Justin Kluivert is similar whilst there are younger options in Lazar Samardzic or even Dominik Szoboszlai.

All of these players are unlikely to be able to get back as effectively as Angelino but this might be a game where Leipzig should be more concerned with what they can do on the front foot.

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