The knockout round of the UEFA Champions League is finally here after a two-month wait! For the site going forward, I will write a preview for each two-match series in each round leading up to the Champions League Final on May, 29 in Istanbul.
To start off, the defending Premier League champions Liverpool square off with RB Leipzig, the club who made it to the UCL semifinals back in August, losing 3-0 to Paris Saint-Germain.
Liverpool has fallen from the top of the mountain in the Premier League, especially during 2021. Ever since centre-back Virgil Van Dijk tore his ACL in the Merseyside Derby back in October, Liverpool has not been the same since they have had to shuffle around their backline and midfield to make up for the loss. The front line has also struggled to score, a flaw emphasized in their 1-0 losses at home to Burnley and Brighton & Hove Albion. Losses to Manchester City and Leicester City have dropped the defending champions to sixth place in the Premier League, putting them in danger of missing the Champions League altogether next season. Liverpool will look to go back to their success in the group stage as they won Group D with 13 points that included a 5-0 win over Atalanta. With playmakers such as Diogo Jota and Naby Keita still out for Liverpool, the front three of Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino will need to pick up the slack after struggling to begin 2021.
They will face RB Leipzig, a club who has thrived despite losing superstar striker Timo Werner to the Premier League. Back in August, Leipzig defeated Atletico Madrid 2-1 without Werner to advance to their first ever UCL semifinals. This season, Leipzig currently sits second in the Bundesliga table behind the current UCL champions in Bayern Munich. They have done so with a stout defense, conceding the fewest goals in Bundesliga play with 18. Centre-back Dayot Upamecano anchors the backline, earning himself a spot on Bayern’s formidable squad after the conclusion of this season. While there is no true go-to scorer for Leipzig this season, Angelino, Marcel Sabitzer, Emil Forsberg, Christopher Nkunku and Yussuf Poulsen have each scored four goals this season, giving Leipzig a plethora of options to score. In the UCL group stage, they lost the first-place tiebreaker with PSG on goal differential, finishing second place with 12 points.
These two matches will come down to whether Liverpool can crack through the backline of Leipzig and give their thin defense some support. Last season, Liverpool was eliminated after a defensive masterclass from Atletico Madrid in the round of 16 4-2 in extra time. This season, Liverpool will suffer the same fate as Leipzig’s defense will shut down the attack of Liverpool and goals from Forsberg and Nkunku will send Liverpool packing in the round of 16.
Aggregate prediction: RB Leipzig 3 Liverpool 1