It was the victory Liverpool had been crying out for, something with which to shelter from the storm and earn an evening to remind themselves that the good times can return.
Jurgen Klopp’s men left Budapest on Wednesday evening with a 4-0 aggregate victory over the current second best team in German football, while booking their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League as a result.
In light of miserable domestic form the win and clean sheet said so much about a team who appeared to have lost its way, while offering guidance as to how the rest of the season could pan out.
At long last Jurgen Klopp was given something to celebrate as Liverpool outplayed Leipzig
With his back up firmly against the wall, Klopp was forced into a selection of key changes in order to get his side on top once again.
As recently covered by Sportsmail, the Liverpool boss has found himself in a position where gambles have to be taken, yet the Leipzig victory suggested this could now be the way forward.
Following another thrilling night in Budapest, here are the lessons Liverpool learned and will have to build upon in order to get their campaign back on track when they face Wolves on Monday night…
Return of ‘the lighthouse’
In the aftermath of the final whistle an ecstatic Pep Lijnders exclaimed to Liverpool’s official website, ‘the lighthouse is back.’
The Reds’ assistant manager was referring to the imperious Fabinho, who returned to the heart of the midfield and wasted no time in putting in a Man of The Match performance.
Fabinho has been previously referred to as ‘the lighthouse’ by the Liverpool coaching staff because of the way he is seen to guide everything from the middle of the pitch, seizing possession and ushering his team-mates safely up the field.
Fabinho is referred to as Liverpool’s ‘lighthouse’ and showed his mastery in midfield again
Such have been the limitations of Liverpool’s season, £45m midfielder Fabinho was only starting a match in midfield for the first time since October.
The Brazilian had been thrust into the centre of defence as a makeshift cover ever since the season-ending injury sustained by Virgil van Dijk against rivals Everton at Goodison Park.
In Budapest, however, Fabinho was able to revert to what he knows best and simply outclass in the middle of the park.
In his post match interview Klopp revealed he had joked with Fabinho at the final whistle, saying he could not have made it any clearer that he prefers playing in a deep-lying midfield berth.
The difference in Liverpool’s structure was immediately apparent. It comes as no surprise that the Reds look a more uniform outfit with Fabinho operating centrally, given how crucial he was to both European and domestic title victories across the past two years.
The Brazilian controlled the field for Liverpool and he left Budapest as the Man of the Match
The Brazilian broke up play expertly and afforded much more room for summer signing Thiago to make things happen. This, collectively, gave Liverpool a lift.
Leipzig bodies were forced to work overtime in midfield while upfront, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota benefited as a result.
If injury-ravaged Liverpool can set up in this manner against one of Germany’s finest sides, who made the semi-finals of last season’s tournament, then one can reasonably assume it should translate back to the Premier League.
Phillips thrives on protection
Liverpool have been dealt a truly miserable hand this season when it comes to defensive injuries.
The amount of varying central defensive pairings is well into double figures for Klopp this season, but some silver lining must be extracted from a rather bleak setting.
On Wednesday evening this silver lining was undoubtedly Nat Phillips. The 23-year-old was a colossus on his Champions League debut and appeared to win every single ball in the air.
On his Champions League debut Nat Phillips was a colossus against Leipzig and dominated
Just six months ago Phillips was considered a bit-part player at Anfield, earning his stripes with a series of loan moves before inevitably heading for the exit door.
Now, however, he is getting more game time with the reigning champions than he ever could have imagined.
It hasn’t been easy for Phillips, having to adjust to a regimented, high-octane style of play while featuring with a different partner on a weekly basis.
Against Leipzig however, Klopp appeared to hit the jackpot.
With the energetic Ozan Kabak alongside him, Phillips benefited hugely from the defensive foil of Fabinho just ahead.
The presence of the former Monaco man nullified rapid counter breaks through midfield, meaning Phillips was rarely targeted one-on-one in a direct footrace.
Phillips (right) already has an understanding with Fabinho from playing in defence together
Fabinho swept up the play and recycled possession, meaning Kabak and predominantly Phillips could focus on the more orthodox aspects of being a central defender.
With this in mind, the youngster flourished. His brute strength and strong reading of the game were too much for Leipzig, while the pressure relieved as a result of Fabinho’s positioning afforded Phillips more time on the ball to pick out the right passes.
Klopp was thrilled with the starlet at the final whistle, while fans on social media were busy referring to him as the ‘Bolton Baresi’.
This strong momentum and confidence injection must now be capitalised on, making Phillips a shoo-in for Liverpool’s upcoming clash with Wolves.
Jota back on song
So much has happened this season that many Liverpool fans could only look back on Diogo Jota’s majestic start to life in a red shirt with an air of nostalgia.
Prior to his injury picked up against Midtjylland in December, the Portuguese star had been finding the back of the net for fun.
Now, following his return, fans and pundits alike would not have been blamed for suggesting that perhaps Jota’s blistering start was just a happy fluke or a bit of early momentum.
Thankfully for Klopp this does not appear to be the case.
The 24-year-old looked sharp in his first start back against Fulham recently, though in Budapest on Wednesday evening it became clear that the dust had well and truly been shaken off.
Diogo Jota is back and looking sharp for Liverpool, playing an instrumental part in the goals
Jota added verve and determination to Liverpool’s forward line, harrying defenders and looking like a constant presence in the centre forward position.
The former Wolves man offered all the running and willing of the absent Roberto Firmino, except he was able to do so while free of the shackles of Liverpool’s losing run.
Firmino, Salah and Mane have each been dragged down by Liverpool’s poor form and struggled on a personal level as a result. Jota, however, is merely out to prove himself and earn a regular starting spot in Klopp’s XI.
His fearless running was testament to this, and the spark in energy helped trigger both Salah and Mane into life.
Jota’s crucial role in Salah’s opener, with an intelligent inside pass, allowed the Egyptian to cut in and pick out the bottom corner. All three strikers linked up for the goal, and smiles were aplenty as a result.
Shuffling the pack
One thing Klopp did exceptionally well in the Hungarian capital was use the full depth of his squad at the right moments.
So much of Liverpool’s campaign has been dictated by injury that this has scarcely been an option.
Yet against Leipzig, as the panic-stricken Germans searched for answers, Klopp continued to play the right card at the right moment.
Klopp used the right moments to shuffle his pack and benefited from Naby Keita’s arrival
The introduction of the fit-again Naby Keita against his former club worked wonders, with the Guinean almost playing an immediate role with a chance created for Salah.
Likewise, Klopp was able to keep his engine room fresh by extracting the likes of Thiago and the ever-present Georginio Wijnaldum, earning both stars valuable additional recovery time with victory already in the bag.
Having veteran James Milner back at his disposal is clearly a nice comfort blanket for the Liverpool boss, who has frequently moved to bring the 35-year-old into the closing stages of matches to provide both experience and a calm head.
Going forward, this could be pivotal for the Reds regaining a foothold in the Premier League.
Liverpool may have earned a quarter-final place with Wednesday’s victory but Klopp will feel as though his side gained so much more.
A blueprint now appears to be in place for the remainder of the campaign, albeit a makeshift one. Valuable lessons have been gleaned from Liverpool’s excursion to Budapest. Now, they have a foundation to build upon.
Klopp’s call to add the experience of James Milner safely ushered the game to a winning end