Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp admits they are not in a position where they can think about winning the Champions League – yet.
A 2-0 win over RB Leipzig thanks to Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, who scored the 100th goal in Klopp’s 44th match in charge of the Reds in the competition, secured a 4-0 aggregate win which eased them into the quarter-finals for the third time in four years.
Having won it in 2019 and reached the final the year before they do have good form in the competition but that is offset somewhat by the woeful season they are having as defending Premier League champions.
The Champions League may offer their best way back into Europe’s elite club competition as they are well off the pace of the Premier League top four, but Klopp is not getting ahead of himself.
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Asked whether it was a ridiculous notion to think about winning the trophy for a seventh time he said: “It is kind of – but the only reasons you play in this competition is because you want to win it.
“But we aren’t silly and so far, this season it is not one which looks like we will win the Champions League in the end.
“We have to wait for the draw, and it will be an extremely tough game whoever we get.
“We don’t really think that far, we think about from tomorrow and about Wolves [on Monday].
“We had momentum in that (the Champions League) but not in the Premier League yet and we will have games to get that back – and that would help the Champions League definitely.”
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‘Fabinho one of best in world’
Key to the relative ease of victory in Budapest was the restoration of Fabinho to central midfield for the first time since he was forced to permanently deputise at centre-back when Virgil van Dijk’s season was ended by a knee injury in the Merseyside derby in mid-October.
But central defender Nat Phillips, on his European debut having been omitted from the squad for the group phase, was also outstanding at the back.
“It was my hope for the season and during the season [to play the Brazilian in midfield] but it didn’t happen so we have to see what solutions we can find the next few games,” Klopp added.
“Of course, number six is his best position, he is one of the best in the world in that position that is clear: not only defending-wise but creating as well.”
Man of the match – Fabinho
Sky Sports’ Oliver Yew:
Restored to Liverpool’s midfield for the first time since October 17, Fabinho showed exactly what the Reds have been missing.
Used as a makeshift defender following Virgil van Dijk’s injury in the Merseyside derby in October, the Brazilian has done an admirable job trying to hold Klopp’s defence together.
But against Leipzig, he showed exactly why Klopp will try to keep him in the middle of the park from now until the end of the season.
He didn’t put a foot wrong, controlling the game beautifully alongside Georginio Wijnaldum and Thiago Alcantara.
Thiago was freed from defensive responsibilities he could focus on the creative side of his game, while Fabinho’s midfield presence also allowed full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson to play higher up the pitch.
He also gave the inexperienced centre-back pairing of Nat Phillips and Ozan Kabak the protection they needed to secure a clean sheet to help the Reds keep their dream of a seventh European Cup alive.
Klopp on Phillips: ‘What a night for him!’
On the 23-year-old Phillips, who looked to be heading out of the club in September, the Reds boss added: “Oh my God. What a boy he is, what player he is, what a night it is for him. That’s absolutely great.
“The concentration level he shows now week, in week out since he is playing for us is absolutely incredible.
“He is doing exactly the right things at the right moment. In the air he is a monster and you could see today football-wise he is not bad. I couldn’t be happier for somebody more than I am for Nat at this moment.
“Not a lot of people get the honour to play a Champions League game and he has that now and he played a really good one and he won it and qualified for the last eight. That is really special.”
‘Victory will give Liverpool confidence’
Clinton Morrison, speaking on Sky Sports News:
“Even though they’ve not been so good in the Premier League, this is a competition that Liverpool always do well in.
“Obviously, you look at the likes of Manchester City and Bayern Munich and you’d probably say they are the two outstanding favourites to win it, but you just never know?
“If you can get a good draw, keep progressing through the rounds and then get a few players back fit and firing, I think Liverpool have got a great chance.
“It’s not worth getting a good result this evening and then going to Wolves on Monday and not getting a positive result.
“It’s going to be a difficult game and I think Jurgen Klopp knows that. However, he’ll just be happy with what’s happened against Leipzig and then he’ll work for the rest of the week towards Monday’s game, which is an important game for Liverpool because they still want to finish in that top four.
“But the result today gives them huge confidence going forward.”
Nagelsmann: We deserved to be knocked out
There was no expected spirited comeback from the Bundesliga’s second-placed side and coach Julian Nagelsmann accepted their performance did not warrant progress.
“I think we deserved to be knocked out. I think the emotional qualities we’ve had in recent matches in the league and cup weren’t shown today,” he said.
“We don’t like losing but sometimes you have to admit the opponent was better.
“We are angry and sad, but we’ll focus on Frankfurt who we play in the Bundesliga. It is well-deserved Liverpool go into the next round.”
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