When Liverpool were drawn against last year’s Champions League semi-finalists RB Leipzig for this season’s last 16, there were a few grim expressions around Anfield at the thought of taking on the German side at the Red Bull Arena. After all, Leipzig had just dispatched Liverpool’s bitter rivals Manchester United to make the knockout phase and consign the English side to the Europa League.
But all that was way back in early December, before a string of new coronavirus variants had made their presence felt across Europe, and indeed the world. As a result, many countries have restricted movement across their borders in a bid to contain the new strands of the virus, and Germany is no different. Unfortunately for RB Leipzig, the government would make no exception for Liverpool to travel to Germany for the Champions League tie, and as a result the first leg will now take place at the Puskás Aréna in Budapest.
It’s a late change, and is unlikely to be a helpful switch for either team. Leipzig will be forced to play away from the familiar confines of their home stadium, while Liverpool are faced with the prospect of a longer-than-planned trip. For the neutral, the decision to move the game has conjured some interesting talking points as to whether or not either team will benefit or suffer as a result.
For Leipzig, there are few positives to be taken. Although the nature of behind-closed-doors football is such that home advantage doesn’t have quite the same impact as it does with a packed stadium cheering the team on, being made to carry out your home tie in an unfamiliar ground is far from ideal. Many teams have travelled to Leipzig and suffered at the hands of Julian Nagelsmann’s side over the last couple of seasons, and they would have surely fancied taking advantage of Liverpool’s indifferent form of late.
Now, they are faced with a match that will to all intents and purposes be played at a neutral venue, despite it being their ‘home leg’. But one of the key things throughout sport’s quest to carry on amid the coronavirus pandemic has been adaptability, and Leipzig will need to demonstrate this skill in abundance if they are going to cause Liverpool harm and damage their status in the Champions League betting and odds.
Although Jürgen Klopp’s side will have to travel that bit further for the match now, the move to Budapest could well prove to be a motivating factor for the team. They will know that Leipzig will be uncomfortable in their surroundings, and for Liverpool it will simply feel like any other European away game — that could make all the difference in terms of digging deep and pinching an away goal or two.
Liverpool are looking for a spark to reignite their season after suffering a pretty torrid time of things in 2021 so far. Klopp’s men are all but out of the Premier League title race, and they’ll be looking at the Champions League as their last chance to redeem what has been a disappointing follow-up to their historic domestic league success last season.
Every possible advantage must be grasped with both hands ahead of the Leipzig tie, and perhaps Klopp may have allowed himself a sly smile when he read the news that the game had been moved. Now, the onus is on Liverpool to go out and take advantage of Leipzig’s logistical misfortune.