It turns out all Liverpool needed was a short midweek break to Budapest to reconnect, restore some confidence and rediscover their ruthless streak.

Tuesday's 2-0 triumph over RB Leipzig in the Hungarian capital was a much-needed boost for Jurgen Klopp's squad, as the Champions League seemingly holds their only hope of silverware.

Before the second leg, though, they resume a Premier League campaign that has seen the focus switch from retaining the title to finishing in the top four. With no club spared from feeling the financial impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Reds can ill-afford to miss out on the monetary benefits that come from playing in Europe's premier competition.

Next up: the Merseyside derby on Saturday. Liverpool welcome their neighbours to Anfield having lost three league games on the spin for the first time in Klopp's reign, though the European trip helped quickly lift the gloom that had engulfed them following the disheartening 3-1 defeat to Leicester City.

Mohamed Salah scored against Leipzig, meaning the Egyptian now has 24 in all competitions. There was also a goal for Sadio Mane, who – unlike his fellow forward – has not quite hit the same heights as he reached previously.

A one-on-one finish lifted Mane's tally for the season to 11 in 31 appearances, though just seven of those goals have come in league action. The Senegal forward finished level for the Golden Boot with Salah and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2018-19 on 22 goals, while last term he managed 18.

It will take a strong finish down the stretch to get close to those figures again, but is there a clear reason for Mane's dip in productivity?


ISSUES UP FRONT - AND AT THE BACK

After 24 games in 2019-20, runaway leaders Liverpool had scored 56 goals and let in 15. At the same stage this season, they have conceded 32. Without a solid foundation to build on, the sense of invincibility has disappeared, replaced instead by a vulnerability that offers opponents hope, provided they repel what comes their way.

The attack could help mask some of those defensive deficiencies. While they have managed fewer goals this season (45), the numbers have remained relatively consistent with previous years.

Though Liverpool's shot conversion rate of 17.58 per cent is slightly lower, they have done better when it comes to putting away big chances, per Opta data. At 45.31 per cent, the Reds have been more successful than a season ago (40.37), albeit their minutes-per-goal average is obviously up (48 compared to 40.24, while in the 2018-19 season it went even lower, down at 38.43).

After consistent improvement, a plateau or a dip was always going to come along at some stage. What was not expected, however, is the number of injuries Klopp has had to deal with. It should not be underestimated how the rotation behind the established forward line has had an effect, particularly with midfield regulars Fabinho and Jordan Henderson having to fill in for absent centre-backs.


TARGET PRACTICE REQUIRED

Key absences have obviously hampered Liverpool, but the established trio up top have remained relatively consistent in Klopp's line-ups. Diogo Jota did arrive to provide competition, yet his fast start to life on Merseyside was put on hold by a long-term injury. Yes, even new recruits were not safe from suffering pain.

Predominantly playing on the left side of a front three, Mane has occupied similar positions to the previous season. His total number of shots appears on course to be similar, though there has been a noticeable decline when it comes to converting them.

His success rate of 14.29 per cent with attempts is his lowest since signing for the club. There is no such regression when it comes to taking big chances, yet his average of 255 minutes per goal is not just a major rise on previous years with Liverpool, but also higher than either of his seasons spent with Southampton.

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Mane is underperforming in terms of his xG (expected goals) rate for 2020-21, with his seven goals from 63 attempts under his expected total of 9.3. In contrast, when helping secure a long-awaited championship, Liverpool's first in the top flight for 30 years, he hit 18 goals - a total managed from 77 shots - to comfortably outperform his xG of 13.7.


DERBY DAYS PROVIDE FOND MEMORIES

Having scored against Leipzig, Mane will be aiming to once again make an impact in what looks to be a pivotal derby for both teams. 

The 28-year-old was on target against Everton in the 2-2 result at Goodison Park back in October, a game that changed Liverpool's course dramatically as Virgil van Dijk suffered a serious knee injury. There were signs of cracks appearing before then - most noticeably in the shock 7-2 defeat at Aston Villa - but the Dutchman’s absence continues to be keenly felt.

The Reds leaned heavily on Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold as attacking outlets on their way to being crowned champions. The full-back pairing had 16 assists between them, the former leading the way with 10 (vastly higher than his xA - expected assists - value of 4.88).

This term, they have not quite had the same impact going forwards. They have three assists each, in line with their xA figures. Mane has also contributed the same number, having registered seven in the league in 2019-20.

Fatigue - both mental and physical - could also be an issue for Mane and his team-mates. According to former Liverpool player Vladimir Smicer, it would be understandable considering what they have been through, not just across the past few months but indeed ever since their unlikely run to the Champions League final in 2018. 

"Sometimes we are missing a bit of freshness in important moments in the game, which is the difference in regard to last season," Smicer told Stats Perform News courtesy of KIA.

"Even the VAR decisions against Liverpool this year, where last year everything was perfect, going well. 

"That might be why even Mane – a fantastic player, in my eyes one of the best players in the world – is suffering a little bit, whether it be with fewer goals, or his offensive potency."

Everton could be just the opponents to raise levels again, though. Mane has never lost a derby meeting in his Liverpool career, a record he will be keen to protect this weekend.

Liverpool losing the Merseyside derby at home to Everton on Saturday is "not possible", according to former Red Vladimir Smicer.

Jurgen Klopp's side defeated RB Leipzig 2-0 in the Champions League in midweek but are on a five-game winless run in the Premier League at Anfield, with each of their past three top-flight home matches ending in defeat.

Liverpool's 68-game unbeaten home run in the Premier League came to an end with a 1-0 loss to Burnley on January 21, and they have since gone down to Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester City on their own turf.

The only time the Reds have previously lost four straight home league fixtures was in 1923, and a defeat to Everton would see them become the first reigning top-flight champions to endure such a streak since the Toffees in the 1928-29 season.

However, Smicer, a Champions League winner with Liverpool in 2005, does not think a derby defeat to Carlo Ancelotti's side is in the offing.

"It's unusual to see Liverpool losing three [Premier League home] games in a row, very unusual. Especially after the run they had last year and that they were unbeaten at Anfield for three years," Smicer told Stats Perform News courtesy of KIA.

"It is unusual but we can see how difficult the Premier League is, it's tough. Sometimes it seems easy, but it's not. You must be good to [keep] winning games in the Premier League.

"Liverpool have been a little below their capacity in their last three games and that's why they lost. That's football and that's the Premier League. It's a tough competition.

"But I cannot see Liverpool lose the Merseyside derby. Not possible. It will not happen."

Liverpool are likely to have to deploy Jordan Henderson alongside Ozan Kabak in the centre of defence against the Toffees, with Fabinho ruled out by Jurgen Klopp.

The Brazilian midfielder has been primarily used at centre-back this season with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip each sustaining long-term injuries.

Klopp conceded the title after the 3-1 reverse to Leicester City last week, with the Reds heading into this weekend sixth in the Premier League and 16 points adrift of leaders City.

With fourth-placed Chelsea only two points ahead, though, Smicer feels a place in the top four is still well within reach.

"I definitely think they will make the top four. Yes, we have been hit by a lot of injuries, not only Virgil van Dijk which is the main one and a very important player," said Smicer.

"In my eyes he's the best defender in the world, and he will [still] be hopefully when he's back. And we are missing him badly.

"Not only him but Gomez is injured, Matip has some injuries and then the team is playing without centre-backs. And then Fabinho and Jordan Henderson have to do the job because they are missing in the middle.

"So, with all the circumstances we are fighting against I think we are still in a good position to make the top four. Unfortunately playing for the title will be very difficult. We are still champions and the players will show it until the end of the season."

The Leicester defeat was Liverpool's third in succession in the Premier League. They have not lost four straight since December 2002, when Smicer was playing at Anfield under Gerard Houllier.

Jurgen Klopp has been suitably impressed by Ozan Kabak so far as the defender looks to make the most of his opportunities at Liverpool. 

Kabak moved to Anfield on the final day of the mid-season transfer window, initially joining on loan from Schalke until the end of the current campaign. 

However, the deal reportedly includes a purchase option, meaning the 20-year-old Turkey international has a window in which to prove he should be signed permanently in a deal worth £18million. 

The centre-back endured a moment to forget on his debut against Leicester City, colliding with goalkeeper Alisson to gift Jamie Vardy a goal that helped the hosts go on to seal a 3-1 triumph at the King Power Stadium. 

Yet Klopp felt Kabak was still solid despite that incident, with the new signing going on to help the Reds keep RB Leipzig at bay in a 2-0 Champions League victory in midweek. 

"Big potential, 20 years old and already pretty experienced, to be honest," Klopp replied when asked about Kabak in his pre-match press conference ahead of the derby against Everton.  

"He didn't take the easy way in his career so far, when you are in Istanbul when you can play for probably one of the biggest teams in the world [Galatasaray] and always be around at the top of the table.

"Then you go to Stuttgart and Schalke, where you have to fight really hard to win football games. That's good from an education and development point of view.

"Now he's here and looks really promising. Both games, he looked really solid.

"Yes, we all know what happened in the Leicester game, but around this situation he played a really solid game, not to forget who we played that day. They were second or third in the Premier League, a tough one with all the forwards they have.

"He did really well - long may it continue."

Kabak has swapped a Bundesliga relegation battle for a top-four fight with Liverpool and, with Fabinho ruled out again, could be set to continue in the team for the visit of Everton on Saturday.

His performance against Leipzig in the first leg of the last-16 tie certainly suggested he has adapted quickly to the change of scenery. He made twice as many tackles (four) as any of his team-mates in Budapest, also managing a joint match-high three interceptions while completing 84.3 per cent of his attempted passes.

The clean sheet on Tuesday was also a confidence boost for Alisson, as his involvement in the Vardy goal against Leicester came after two high-profile errors in the 4-1 home loss to Manchester City. 

While understanding such moments can lead to self-doubt for any player, Klopp made clear to the media that he has never lost faith in his first-choice keeper. 

"My confidence? Nothing changed. We are all human beings, Ali as well. It's not about telling him he's a world-class goalkeeper, he knows that," the Liverpool boss said.

"If you made a mistake in the game before, the previous games and it's nothing you like, humans are all the same. Ali is too smart to ignore it completely.

"Other personalities would perhaps not struggle, but in the end he can rely – and we can rely – on his quality and his attitude, plus how focused he is during a game, how much he lives in it. 

"There was not one second of doubt. Ali, for sure, did not have the best time between the two games – that's how it is. But the Leipzig game was a really good one to get back."

Liverpool are unbeaten in their previous 23 meetings with Everton in all competitions, which is their longest run against any opponent.

They go into the latest meeting with their neighbours looking to avoid a fourth successive league loss, having not suffered such a run of form in the competition since Gerard Houllier was in charge in December 2002.

Naby Keita may make his Liverpool return in Saturday's Merseyside derby but Fabinho remains absent against Everton.

Guinea midfielder Keita has not featured since the Reds' 7-0 mauling of Crystal Palace on December 19 due to an ankle injury but was back in training this week.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will take another check on Keita before the meeting with the Toffees at Anfield, though the German confirmed Fabinho – who missed the Premier League loss to Leicester City and Champions League win over RB Leipzig with a muscular issue – will sit out again, meaning captain Jordan Henderson is likely to partner Ozan Kabak once more in defence.

"Naby trained yesterday with the team, so we have to see what we make of it," Klopp told a news conference.

"Fab was not in training, all the others not as well. Nothing new.

"They all get closer – Fab gets closer, Millie [James Milner] gets closer and Diogo [Jota] gets closer, but not close enough for the weekend."

Klopp explained Keita could have been in contention to face former club Leipzig in midweek, a Champions League last-16 first-leg match played in Budapest that Liverpool won 2-0, only for illness to interrupt his recovery.

"Naby could have been in the squad against Leipzig, but it didn't make sense because he'd only trained two days with the team. So, we said stay at home, train two days of proper training sessions, but unfortunately Naby got ill a little bit and couldn't train these two days," he added.

"Yesterday we reintegrated him again. I just don't know, but we don't hold him back or whatever. Of course, after the injuries he had, we don't want to force him in or something like that, but it would be nice to have him.

"Is he able to play a few minutes on Saturday? I don't know. If he's not, if we speak about it and it's better to rather not play a few minutes then it is better to stay away from the team and just train proper, proper.

"Being around, on the bench, are not the most intense things and he needs to get used to the intensity again. No decision made yet, but he is not injured anymore and now we have to figure out how fit he is to play how many minutes."

Premier League boss Richard Masters is hopeful this season's champions will be spared having to lift the trophy in an empty stadium.

Chief executive Masters is eyeing next term for a major return of supporters, but he says there is a possibility some may return before the 2020-21 campaign ends.

Fans have been absent for almost all of this season to date due to the COVID-19 crisis.

A brief window in December saw up to 2,000 fans allowed in a number of games, but that was quickly shut as infection rates climbed.

It has created the possibility of the champions, like Liverpool last season, having to celebrate their title success behind closed doors.

Yet Masters, who spoke at the FT Business of Football summit on Thursday, is holding out hope that falling coronavirus numbers may mean stands can soon be occupied, even if only by a small number of fans.

"No-one can say but we have not lost hope we might see a few back this season, depending what happens with the numbers," Masters said.

"Hopefully the season finishes as planned on 23 May and wherever the trophy presentation might be, there might be some supporters in the ground as well.

"It depends what happens with the numbers but next season I hope it opens up quickly, so we can get fans back in stadiums and get back to the real Premier League."

Manchester City appear to be surging towards a third Premier League title in four seasons, having opened up a 10-point lead over nearest rivals Manchester United and Leicester City with 14 games remaining.

Football clubs across the world have haemorrhaged money in the last year, with the income stream provided by fans in stadiums taken away.

Some are facing battles to survive and meet payments, while there are concerns for TV deals in many parts.

According to Masters, the Premier League can avoid settling for reduced broadcast income, which is the fate that has affected some major leagues.

He said, quoted by the BBC, that the European picture was "not necessarily relevant" to how deals may pan out in the United Kingdom.

Masters stressed he would not "accept things have plateaued and we are looking at a downward curve".

He added: "We have done some media rights deals during the pandemic and are ahead of our current position in the markets where we have been selling."

Kylian Mbappe's future is in his own hands after showing the world what he is capable of while scoring a hat-trick in Paris Saint-Germain's 4-1 Champions League demolition of Barcelona.

With his contract in the French capital set to expire in June 2022, Mbappe ultimately has the choice of either signing a new deal or leaving his hometown team – and the World Cup winner has been non-committal so far.

Should the 22-year-old sensation decide to take his career abroad, there will be no shortage of suitors, with four European giants ready to swoop.

 

TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL, MANCHESTER CITY, REAL MADRID, JUVENTUS EYE IN-DEMAND MBAPPE

If PSG cannot persuade Mbappe to sign a long-term extension, they will not want to lose a world-class talent without a fee, so the Ligue 1 champions have placed a €200million (£173m) tag on his head, according to Le Parisien.

Le Parisien reports the price may not deter the Frenchman's admirers, who include Premier League rivals Manchester City and LiverpoolReal Madrid and Juventus.

While those clubs may want him, it is unclear if all of them would be able to afford Mbappe, who is set to make more than €30m per year gross on his next contract. Reports claim PSG will aim to price their Champions League rivals out of a deal.

Manchester United are making plans for Paul Pogba's departure and may have already identified the Frenchman's replacement in Real Madrid's Federico Valverde.

The 22-year-old has struggled with injuries this season, while veteran midfielders Luka Modric and Toni Kroos have been in vintage form for LaLiga's champions.

Valverde has only started 12 games in all competitions this season, but the Uruguayan has impressed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer enough for United to step up their efforts to bring him to Old Trafford this off-season.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED EYE VALVERDE TO PLUG MIDFIELD

Valverde has shown his class while featuring in 89 games during his three seasons in the Spanish capital and has turned heads at United.

The Red Devils are said to admire his energy and box-to-box qualities as they seek a long-term solution to lock down a place in the centre of Solskjaer's midfield, according to The Sun.

One snag in the recruitment drive could be the Uruguay international's buy-out clause of a staggering £148million, though United can offer him a major improvement on his current £120,000 per week wage.

RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann says it is "not impossible" for his side to overturn their 2-0 first-leg deficit against Liverpool in the Champions League last 16.

Leipzig were beaten 2-0 in their 'home tie' in Budapest by the English champions, who will host the German club in Liverpool in early March for the second leg.

Angelino hit the post early on for RB Leipzig before Alisson was forced into a good save to deny Christopher Nkunku in the second.

Liverpool then capitalised on Leipzig mistakes with quick-fire goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane offering the Reds a major advantage ahead of the return leg.

"We know the result, but I think we played a good game," Nagelsmann said. "We'll take this with us to the second leg.

"I already want to say before somebody asks the question: The situation is not easier of course, but not impossible either.

"We will do everything and try to reach the next round."

Leipzig had 12 shots to 10, while Liverpool had three shots on target to two and also edged possession in a tight game, where Nagelsmann said capitalising on chances was the difference.

"We needed two, three minutes after these two mistakes," the 33-year-old coach said. "It’s the classic question to ask, if these mistakes will be punished at this high level.

"This is basically punished on every level. Then we needed five, six minutes to bounce back. It was good that we didn't concede a third goal. Then my boys did well again."

Alisson has been under fire lately but he will "sleep really well" according to Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp after keeping an assured clean sheet in Tuesday's 2-0 win over RB Leipzig.

Second-half goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane earned the Reds the Champions League last-16 victory in Budapest, ahead of the return leg in Liverpool on March 10.

However, prior to those goals Alisson came up with a big save in the 46th minute to deny Christopher Nkunku.

The clean sheet comes after the Brazilian goalkeeper was criticised for his turnovers in the 4-1 loss to Manchester City and a defensive mix-up in the 3-1 defeat to Leicester City in the Premier League.

"Definitely, definitely," Klopp said when asked about Alisson feeling better. "He honestly had big moments in the Leicester game also, some brilliant saves. So that's how it is, but of course it helps.

"A clean sheet, I can imagine Ali will sleep really well on the plane on the way home, and as always he helped us a lot."

Liverpool’s triumph snapped a run of three consecutive defeats amid a period of tumult for Klopp's side as their Premier League title challenge has fallen apart, slipping down to sixth.

The German manager was delighted with his players' response against last season's Champions League semi-finalists, which provided a morale boost although he insisted that was not a tonic for their problems.

"Look, we are not children anymore so we would now think 'OK, now we won that game and everything is fine again'," Klopp said.

"For me it is much more important that we played again good football. Again, not the first time, in the last few weeks, I understand that and I respect that 100 per cent, that nobody is really happy with the results, that's clear."

Klopp's caution is understandable given last month's form dip was halted with wins over Tottenham and West Ham before their latest slump.

He added: "I know Leipzig pretty well and I know how dominant they can be, football-wise, and how overwhelming they can be in a game from a physical point of view.

"That is what we had to deal with tonight and the boys played a really good game, a really good game."

Jurgen Klopp was delighted with Liverpool's performance in their win over RB Leipzig, particularly as he felt "people expected us to slip up again".

The Reds took charge of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday as they claimed a 2-0 first-leg win in the relocated fixture in Budapest.

Goals from Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in the second half, each coming from defensive errors from Leipzig, gave Liverpool a victory that makes them firm favourites to progress to the quarter-finals.

The result and performance was a notable departure from their recent run of form, which had seen them win just three of their previous 12 games in all competitions.

Manager Klopp felt it was a timely response to those who expected his players to struggle against the Bundesliga's second-placed side.

"It was a game we wanted; it was a game we needed," he told BT Sport. "Leipzig can be a real monster, they overrun teams, they're really physical, and tonight we controlled them in a really exceptional way.

"I think we got the result we deserved. We defended the situations really well.

"Tonight, we deserved to win. A lot of people were waiting for us to slip up again, and we didn't. We were really good for two years and then this year, we have some problems. A lot of people expected us to slip again, just because of the situation, and the boys didn't. That's what I'm really happy about."

Captain Jordan Henderson, who again deputised at the heart of the defence, wants Liverpool to maintain the standards they hit at the Puskas Arena.

"It was an important game for us, a tough game, but we're really happy with the performance overall," he said.

"Keeping a clean sheet was important for us as well. From start to finish, defensively, throughout the team we pressed well and won the ball back.

"It's a good win but it's only half the job done. We've got to be pleased with that because Leipzig are a good side.

"We just want to keep going, keep fighting every time we play. Tonight was a good step in the right direction for us. We need to continue with that performance level and if we do, we'll get some good results along the way."

Liverpool took charge of their Champions League last-16 tie with RB Leipzig as they claimed a 2-0 win in the first leg in Budapest.

Julian Nagelsmann's side, who pipped Manchester United to a place in the knockouts, looked far from comfortable in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Puskas Arena, where Tuesday's game was held to due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

Mohamed Salah's 24th goal of the season put Liverpool ahead after a mistake by Kevin Kampl, and Sadio Mane doubled the advantage when Nordi Mukiele gifted him an opportunity.

The Reds are now unbeaten in six away games against Bundesliga opposition stretching back to 2002, and Jurgen Klopp's men will be firm favourites to progress to the quarter-finals.

Liverpool nearly fell behind after just five minutes, Dani Olmo's diving header hitting the inside of the post from Angelino's cross.

The away side looked the most threatening as they began to take control, and Peter Gulacsi was alert to block a Salah effort from close range before Roberto Firmino fired a shot into the side-netting.

Mane then headed over from six yards from a Firmino cross, and the Senegalese thought he had set up his strike partner to nod in the opener after errors from Dayot Upamecano, but the ball had gone out of play.

Christopher Nkunku had barely been involved in the first half but he could have given Leipzig the lead early in the second, Alisson saving well after the striker ran onto Olmo's throughball.

It was Salah who broke the deadlock 53 minutes in, drilling past Gulacsi after a dreadful backpass from Kampl, and it soon got worse for Leipzig.

Mukiele made a complete mess of a simple clearance forward by Curtis Jones, and Mane had time to stride into the box and slot home.

Angelino had a chance to pull a goal back but sliced his attempt badly, summing up a poor game for last season's semi-finalists.

What does it mean? Fragile Liverpool give season huge boost

Injuries and recent form - they had won three of their previous 12 games in all competitions - will have had Liverpool fans feeling a little anxious before meeting the side second in the Bundesliga.

However, a display of supreme authority, helped by an erratic approach from Leipzig, put Klopp's men in total charge of this tie and could well have provided a timely boost in confidence.

Leipzig will hope for better in the second leg, but their previous visit to England ended in a 5-0 defeat to Manchester United.

Salah at menacing best

Salah should perhaps have scored sooner but he made no mistake with his clearest chance of the game.

He spent the rest of the game harassing a deeply unsettled Leipzig defence in a hugely impressive, committed performance.

Nagelsmann's men in a muddle

Leipzig were on a six-game unbeaten run at home in this competition and it was unfortunate for them that this game had to be relocated to a neutral venue.

Still, that does not explain the horribly haphazard nature of their performance. Two defensive errors led directly to the goals, Mukiele could have been sent off before his mistake, while Bayern Munich-bound Upamecano misplaced 20 passes from centre-back.

What's next?

With the return leg not until March 10, Liverpool's more pressing concern is a derby with Everton on Saturday. Leipzig head to Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga a day later.

Pep Guardiola hailed Jurgen Klopp's "exceptional " achievements as the Liverpool boss comes under increasing pressure amid their slump in form.

Klopp conceded the title following Liverpool's 3-1 defeat to Leicester City on Saturday, admitting that the gap to Guardiola's Manchester City - which stands at 13 points ahead of City's game in hand with Everton on Wednesday - was too much for the defending champions to make up.

The Reds, who face RB Leipzig in the Champions League last 16 on Tuesday, are in danger of missing out on playing in that competition next season.

Liverpool's loss at the King Power Stadium was their third successive defeat in the Premier League and they sit sixth in the table, two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and fifth-placed West Ham.

However, Guardiola praised Liverpool's display at Leicester, where they took the lead before Brendan Rodgers' side scored three times in the space of seven minutes, and was extremely complimentary of his managerial rival when asked if he had empathy for Klopp.

"A lot," he replied at a pre-match media conference. "What he's done is exceptional.

"I said many times now and previously in Germany, he makes football attractive for all spectators, wants to give joy to fans, attacking football and no doubts about it.

"We have good and bad moments, no manager can sustain season after season, winning and winning, it would be boring.

"Sometimes you have to lose, to realise. I speak personally, sometimes it's good to lose, you realise how difficult it is.

"When you come back you get more credit and value for what you've done."

City can go 10 points clear at the top with a win over Everton, having won their last 16 games in all competitions and their last 11 in the league.

"We never get perfection, what we've done, the 16 games in a row, 11 in the Premier League, is thinking the next game, this is the only secret," added Guardiola.

"All games left to play, a lot can happen. All I think is Everton. We are in mid-February, a lot of points [to play for], we'll drop points and that's the moment I expect to see the reaction of all of us."

For Naby Keita, Liverpool's Champions League tie with RB Leipzig could have offered a chance to show his old club what they are missing.

Travel restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus pandemic have blocked the first leg from taking place in Germany, so Budapest will instead stage the opening match of the last-16 showdown on Tuesday. Keita, however, will not be there.

Rather than head to the Hungarian capital with the rest of the squad, the Guinea international has remained back on Merseyside to continue his recovery from the latest injury setback in a Liverpool career that has flattered to deceive so far. 

There have been bright moments, occasional performances where he has demonstrated his class, but too often those high points have been followed by a prolonged spell on the sidelines.  

Keita made 43 league appearances in his first two years in England, but only 25 of them were starts. This season, there have been just seven outings, the last of them on December 19 in the 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace, back when everything looked far rosier in Liverpool's garden.

Jurgen Klopp provided a positive fitness update on the midfielder ahead of the Leipzig game, revealing: "Naby is no longer injured but he's not fit yet".  A reunion with his former employers could still come at Anfield in the return fixture, albeit the German manager is not known for being sentimental when it comes to team selection.

Liverpool were patient in the first place just to get him; having failed to agree terms for his immediate transfer, they instead struck a deal with Leipzig to have him join 12 months later for, at the time, a club-record fee.

"Until I join my new club, next summer, I will remain an interested supporter from a distance," Keita said when the impending transfer was confirmed. Sadly, too often he has been stuck watching on since. There have been hamstring, thigh, groin and knee issues, plus a spell out after contracting COVID-19. It has felt like one step forward, two back.

Still, his two seasons at Leipzig – during which he contributed 14 goals and 12 assists in 58 Bundesliga games – demonstrated why Klopp was willing to wait. Comfortable with the ball at his feet and capable of playing the killer pass when working in crowded spaces, he was seen as the ideal attacking threat that could lift the team to the next level. 

The Reds have duly raised their standards, but Keita has been a peripheral figure. He was ruled out of the Champions League final against Tottenham in July 2019 and, while he played – and scored – the night Liverpool lifted the Premier League trophy just over 12 months later, it was one of only 14 starts in all competitions. 

His only other league goal during that title-winning campaign came at Bournemouth in the previous December, when he picked up possession in a pocket of space in front of the opposition defence, played a clever one-two with Mohamed Salah and then toe-poked the ball in.

Such moments of quality served to underline why he was identified and, eventually, signed. Liverpool have rarely made big-money mistakes in the transfer market, but Keita has yet to live up to the hefty fee, which covered his £48million release clause plus an undisclosed premium that sealed the deal. 

While seven goals and four assists in 45 starts is so far a disappointing return on that sizeable investment, exploring Keita's contributions in greater depth shows what he can produce when healthy.

No player who had over 20 dribble attempts for Liverpool in the 2019-20 league season had a better success rate than his 82.14 per cent, while his figure for big chances created per 90 minutes (0.55) was the best of the lot, too. Add in an average of 10.95 passes into the final third per 90 and you see the type of numbers that suggest he could have made a difference this term, particularly in games where Klopp's side have struggled so badly to break down opposing line-ups stuck in a low block.

There is still time to have a greater impact, of course, but rather than taking centre stage when Liverpool take on Leipzig, Keita is stuck as a spectator once again, a footnote to the storyline as the knockout stages of the competition begin.

Tuesday sees the return of the Champions League as the first two last-16 ties get started, including arguably the pick of the bunch; Barcelona v Paris Saint-Germain.

While we have been robbed of the Messi v Neymar narrative after the Brazilian was ruled out for four weeks with an adductor injury last week, there should still be plenty of talent on display.

Messi can still expect to be the focus, given the strong transfer links to PSG, while the Parisians will be hoping for a hint of revenge for the famous 'Remontada' of 2016-17.

Also in action on Tuesday are Liverpool and RB Leipzig, with the Germans' home leg taking place in Budapest due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions imposed in Germany.

Ahead of the two tantalising fixtures, here are the key stats for both games…

Barcelona v PSG

4 – Barca and PSG last met at this same stage in 2016-17, when the Catalans became the only team to ever qualify for the next round in the Champions League after losing by at least four goals in the first leg. They won the second leg 6-1 in Camp Nou.

14 – Barca are hoping to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the a record 14th consecutive campaign. They were last eliminated at this stage in 2006-07 by Liverpool.

10 – While PSG have only one away win against Spanish opposition (Valencia) in the Champions League knockout phase, Barca have never lost at home to a French side in 10 such games in this competition.

2 – Antoine Griezmann has more yellow cards (two) than he has Champions League goal involvements (one assist) for Barca at Camp Nou in seven appearances.

1 – Kylian Mbappe has scored only one goal in his nine Champions League knockout games with PSG. He had found the net six times in six knockout games with Monaco.

RB Leipzig v Liverpool

0 – RB Leipzig have played 22 matches in the Champions League – none have ended goalless.

8.9 – While Liverpool are known for their effective pressing, Leipzig are even more aggressive. The German have allowed their opponents just 8.9 passes on average before intervening defensively in the competition this season, the lowest figure of any side in 2020-21.

1 – Roberto Firmino has scored only one goal in his previous 16 Champions League games. That came in last season's last-16 second leg against Atletico Madrid.

6 – Leipzig wing-back Angelino has contributed three goals and three assists in the Champions League this term – Alvaro Morata (six goals, one assist) is the sole Spaniard with more goal involvements in 2020-21.

45 – Liverpool were the only team not to concede a single goal in the first 45 minutes of matches in the group stage.

With Lionel Messi's future far from certain at the end of the season, his former team-mate Neymar has apparently reached out to the Barcelona captain about a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Brazilian superstar Neymar played alongside the six-time Ballon d'Or winner for four LaLiga seasons between 2013 and 2017, before sealing a world-record transfer to Ligue 1 giants

It is understood Pep Guardiola's Manchester City are ready to make a play to bring Messi to the Premier League, but Mauricio Pochettino's PSG appear to be taking the direct approach.

 

TOP STORY – NEYMAR PUTS IN A CALL TO MESSI

Lionel Messi's contract at his boyhood club expires in the off-season, less than a year after the Barcelona superstar sensationally tried to leave Camp Nou but found his exit plans blocked.

According to L'Equipe, Neymar – who is set to miss the Champions League trip to the Barcelona on Tuesday – has put in a call to convince Messi to join Paris Saint-Germain.

Messi will lead out Barca in the first leg of the last-16 tie, having stated he will wait until the end of the current campaign before making a decision on where he will play in 2021-2022.

ROUND-UP

- PSG star Kylian Mbappe has decided to stay put this off-season but is not planning on extending his current contract, which expires in 2022, claims ESPN.

Liverpool are looking for defensive reinforcements and they are monitoring Aston Villa's England Under-21 international Ezri Konsa, according to The Athletic.

- Bayern Munich's free-agent defender David Alaba has already agreed to join Real Madrid at season's end, reports Fabrizio Romano.

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