Going into their Champions League round of 16 first leg against RB Leipzig, Liverpool had reached their lowest point of the Jurgen Klopp era.
Their self-implosion in the 3-1 defeat against Leicester last time out summed up everything wrong at Anfield at the moment. Confidence is low, fatigue is high and there is a growing sense that this brilliant team is coming to the end of their cycle of dominance.
Fortunately, Leipzig were feeling sorry for the Reds on Tuesday night, gifting them not one, but two goals in the second half.
The first guilty man was Marcel Sabitzer; seizing upon a loose ball in midfield, the Austrian attempted a seemingly basic ten-yard pass to Lukas Klostermann and got it wrong – very wrong.
With the pass half a yard behind the lumbering centre-back, Mohamed Salah smelled opportunity and darted onto the misplaced ball, before calmly slotting past Peter Gulacsi.
This error clearly gave Leipzig an appetite for self-destruction as minutes later, highly-rated young centre-back Nordi Mukiele was guilty of an even more heinous mistake. There were thousands of acceptable ways that Mukiele could have dealt with Curtis Jones’ innocuous long ball – none of them involved falling on his backside like a Sunday league plodder still sweating out the six pints they enjoyed the night before, and staying there in a strop as his opponent ran clear.
Sadio Mane would benefit this time, racing onto the loose before stroking the ball across Gulacsi and into the back of the net.
These two errors were indicative of Leipzig’s strange performance. Recently, Die Roten Bullen have been playing well. They have made a genuine claim to be Germany’s new ‘second’ team this season and have only lost twice in their last 17 games in all competitions.
Against Liverpool, they showed glimpses of their talent, with Dani Olmo’s hitting the post with a innovative diving header early on and Angeliño causing problems with his intelligent positioning. Largely though, Leipzig looked bizarrely nervous, particularly at the back.
This manifested itself in a string of basic errors and few players struggled more than Dayot Upamecano, who earlier this week was revealed as David Alaba’s successor at Bayern Munich. Die Roten would have watched his display through their fingers, with the Frenchman routinely caught in possession and also been guilty of some unforgivably slack passing, which put his team under unnecessary pressure.
Although Upamecano was particularly poor, his performance was indicative of Leipzig’s abundance of unforced errors.
The key word here is unforced. Although Liverpool did press effectively on Tuesday night, this was not them strangling their opponents into submission, as they have done so many times before in Europe. A more apt description would be that the Reds were handed the game on a silver platter through Leipzig’s own incompetence.
Although the boost in confidence that the win will bring is much-needed, Liverpool must not get ahead of themselves. This tie remains far from over as there is no chance that Leipzig will play that poorly again when the two teams meet at Anfield for the second leg on 10 March.