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Some respite for Liverpool and Klopp after they advance...

DM168

MAVERICK SPORT 168

Some respite for Liverpool and Klopp after they advance to Uefa Champions League quarters

Naby Keita (centre) of Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp, head coach of Liverpool (right), react after the Uefa Champions League round of 16, second leg, soccer match between Liverpool FC and RB Leipzig at Puskas Ferenc Arena in Budapest, Hungary, on 10 March 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Szilard Koszticsak)

Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain, Porto and Borussia Dortmund all booked their places in the last eight of the Uefa Champions League (UCL) midweek.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

In their last 10 matches Liverpool have lost six. That’s in stark contrast to last season, where they only lost five games across the Premier League and UCL. The Reds have been far from the belligerent force that cruised to the Premier League title last season, and this has seen pressure mounting on Jürgen Klopp and his players.

The Merseyside club, currently languishing in eighth spot in the Premier League, soothed some of that pressure by booking a spot in the Champions League quarterfinals. They eased 2-0 (4-0 on aggregate) past RB Leipzig, who were one of the semifinalists last season.

The victory will hand the Reds a boost in more ways than one. With 10 games remaining in the current Premier League season, last season’s champions trail fourth-placed Chelsea by seven points. Winning the Champions League appears their best shot at qualifying for Europe’s elite club competition next season.

Of course, with so many in-form teams still in the competition, that passage will be far from easy to navigate. Mohamed Salah, who found the back of the net for Liverpool against Leipzig along with Sadio Mané, said the result was a positive one for the team.

“It’s a big result for us. We lost a few games in the Premier League and the team is not in the best shape, but we want to fight in the Champions League and we will also fight in each game in the Premier League and we will see what will happen,” said Salah after the game.

“We don’t have to look at the big picture because sometimes when you do, we see too much pressure carried on to the pitch. We just need to leave the pressure off the field and play.”

Another positive takeaway from the game for Liverpool is the magnificent individual display showcased by Spanish midfield maestro, Thiago Alcântara.

With Fabinho restored to his favoured defensive midfield role, after moonlighting as a centre back in recent months, Liverpool’s midfield looked more stable. Gini Wijnaldum was able to bring out his vintage lung-bursting forward runs, while Alcântara dictated the tempo of play.

Klopp will be hoping that that midfield trio can play together for as long as possible in future, because each of them brought a different dynamic into the team’s overall pleasing performance.

Messi and Ronaldo miss out  

Neither of the Champions League two all-time top goal scorers, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, will be in the quarterfinals of the continental showpiece, for the first time since the 2004/05 season.

Ronaldo’s Juventus were edged out 3-2 by a 10-man Porto side in a clash that went into extra time.

The Portuguese side earned passage to the last eight on away goals after the match ended 4-4 on aggregate. The outcome was another early Champions League exit for Juve. Their elimination by Olympique Lyon at the same stage last season effectively cost Maurizio Sarri his job, while a year earlier Massimiliano Allegri’s side were beaten by underdogs Ajax Amsterdam in the quarterfinals.

It’ll be yet more frustration for Ronaldo, who is a serial winner and was lured to Italy with hopes that he could deliver to Juve the one trophy that has alluded the Italian giants for the past two decades.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi reacts during the Uefa Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match between PSG and FC Barcelona at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, on 10 March 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / YOAN VALAT)

“The Ronaldo operation has been negative so far,” said Sky Italia pundit Paolo Condo. “He was bought to compete at the top level in the Champions League, because Juve had already won league titles with players who weren’t as good or expensive.

“They reached two finals before that, losing one against Lionel Messi and one against Ronaldo, so they needed to sign one or the other to raise the bar. In the last two years his teammates have failed; this year he crumbled too.”

Cristiano Ronaldo at the end of the round of 16 Uefa Champions League soccer match between Juventus FC vs FC Porto at the Allianz stadium in Turin, Italy, on 9 March 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / ALESSANDRO DI MARCO)

Messi and Barcelona were eliminated at the last-16 stage by Paris Saint-Germain, who drew 1-1 against the Spanish side to seal a 5-2 aggregate triumph.

There was still distant hope from Barca’s supporters that they could replicate the performance that saw them overhaul a 4-0 first-leg loss in 2017 against the same opponent and at the same stage of the competition.

It wasn’t to be, though, as the Parisians held on to see the match out and book their spot in the quarters, where they have joined Borussia Dortmund (who saw off Sevilla), as well as Porto and Liverpool. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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