Liverpool and RB Leipzig will head back to the Puskas Arena in Budapest for the return leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Wednesday.
The Reds come into the game leading 2-0 from the first leg, thanks to goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. They can’t buy a Premier League victory right now, especially at Anfield, where Jurgen Klopp’s side have now staggeringly lost their last six games—the worst run in the club’s 129-year history. Thus, the ‘home’ leg of this tie taking place at the same venue in Budapest should delight Liverpool and their fans.
RB Leipzig, on the other hand, have won their last four games since the defeat to Liverpool, and are again playing some fluid, attacking football under Julian Nagelsmann. This run of form has seen Nagelsmann’s side keep the pressure on at the top of the Bundesliga, with only two points splitting them from leaders Bayern Munich whilst progressing to the semi-finals of the DFB Pokal.
Here are the three most exciting battles to have an impact on the outcome of the game on Wednesday evening.
Yussuf Poulsen vs. Fabinho
Yussuf Poulsen has enjoyed a decent season with Leipzig, scoring 11 goals in 32 appearances across all competitions. But he has netted just once in seven Champions League outings so far this season. Even so, the Denmark international will be one of the biggest threats for Leipzig due to his hold-up play and ability to create chances for himself and his teammates.
Poulsen is a real handful in the box and Liverpool’s Fabinho will have to be extra vigilant on Wednesday. Fabinho is a good tackler and can start the Reds’ attacks from the back, but he isn’t too dominant in the air—an area where Poulsen could certainly relish during the game if the delivery from wide areas is great.
Marcel Sabitzer vs. Thiago Alcantara
Marcel Sabitzer and Thiago Alcantara are very likely to come up against each other in the middle of the park.
Sabitzer, a versatile customer, is one of Bundesliga’s best midfielders and the beating heart of Nagelsmann’s Leipzig. He possesses the ability to pick passes in the final third and covers a lot of ground for his team, whilst chipping in with important goals.
As far as Thiago is concerned, he hasn’t enjoyed a great debut season at Liverpool. Expectations were really high when the Spaniard signed from Bayer Munich in the summer but he has massively underperformed in the Premier League.
Nevertheless, Thiago is an experienced player and he’ll look to take control of the game from the first minute for the Reds. Sabitzer will be looking to do the same from Leipzig’s midfield. So, this will be a great midfield battle to witness in Budapest.
Nordi Mukiele vs. Sadio Mane
Nordi Mukiele is a very talented player who has been a consistent performer for Leipzig over the last couple of years. His athleticism, energy and ability to play in different positions in defence make him such a key figure in Nagelsmann’s set-up. The 23-year-old will be taking up the tough task of stopping one of the best wingers in European football in Sadio Mane from breaching Leipzig’s defence.
Mane hasn’t been at his imperious best for Liverpool this season, registering just 11 goals and five assists in 35 games across all competitions. His last goal in the Premier League came in the 3-1 victory over Tottenham in January. However, the Senegalese was on the scoresheet in the first leg against Leipzig which should give him some confidence going into the return leg.
If Mane is able to steal into space behind Mukiele, he can cause Leipzig a lot of problems. How well Mukiele deals with the threat of the jet-heeled Senegalese could well determine the outcome in the second leg.