A delighted Jurgen Klopp admitted Liverpool‘s “exceptional” 2-0 Champions League victory at RB Leipzig was “the game we needed” – but insisted the Reds do not suddenly have their fearless winning mentality back and must continue to build their confidence back up.
Liverpool bounced back from a run of three straight Premier League defeats in impressive style in Hungary’s Puskas Arena, where the match was held instead of Leipzig’s Red Bull Arena due to Germany’s coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
The Premier League champions were the team on top in the first half but failed to take advantage, Roberto Firmino having a headed goal ruled out after the ball crossed the byline before Sadio Mane prodded it back to his Brazilian team-mate in the six-yard box.
But two goals in five second-half minutes before the hour mark, Mohamed Salah and Mane capitalising on two defensive mistakes from the home side, puts Liverpool in strong control of the tie.
Substitute Hwang Hee-chan missed a fine late opportunity for Leipzig, firing wide after going in on goal, but Liverpool were the team in the driving seat for much of the 90 minutes.
If Klopp’s charges score a single goal at Anfield in the second leg, Leipzig must score three times to progress to the quarter-finals.
That makes the six-time European Cup holders firm favourites to progress to the last eight, a round they failed to make last season after falling to Atletico Madrid in the last 16.
But Klopp warned that his side are not suddenly the “mentality monsters” again that they have been the previous two seasons, in which they won the Champions League while amassing 97 points in the league before winning the league with 99 points last term.
“It was the game we needed tonight,” Klopp declared to BT Sport after the final whistle. “Leipzig can be a real monster.
“The way they play in the Bundesliga they can overrun teams, they are physical, pretty much good at everything. We controlled them in an exceptional way.”
Asked about Leipzig’s errors, the German added: “Yeah that’s football. We defended the situations, won the ball and found direction immediately.
“Especially the second. That’s a really difficult ball for the defender to defend. Sadio was there. Over the whole 95 minutes, we defended really well.
“Yeah it was a tough game. Only two games in between our last game, long flight. Flight back, arrive at 3 o’clock [in the morning] or something and just recover.
“You cannot build mentality giants in one game but tonight we were good. We deserved to win.
“I know that a lot of people were waiting for us to slip again but the boys didn’t so I’m really happy.”
Asked if he used the fact people expected Liverpool to slip up against Leipzig as pre-match motivation, Klopp continued: “I don’t think motivation works like this.
“But we all know it – for two years really good, this year we have some problems that’s absolutely normal.
“The talk started and that’s fine, problem fine with that. It’s just a lot of people expected us to slip again because of the situation but the boys didn’t.”
Having lost their last three top-flight outings to slip down to sixth, Liverpool will hope to get back to winning ways in the Merseyside derby against Everton on Saturday evening (5.30pm).
Everton have not won at Anfield since 1999 and are winless against Liverpool since 2010. Carlo Ancelotti’s take on leaders Manchester City on Wednesday night looking to join Liverpool on 40 points, though the Toffees will still have played one game less.