Preview: FC Bayern – Liverpool FC Roundtable
The first match resulted in a surprising, to most viewers, 0-0 draw. What can we take away from the first leg, both good and bad? What adjustments need to be made for the return leg?
Maurice: Bayern surprised most supporters with a strong defensive performance. For the first time this season the team seemed to be committed to the defensive-minded game plan of coach Kovac. The return of 2013-Martinez has helped tremendously in accomplishing just that. The Spaniard was nearly everywhere on the pitch winning tackles, intercepting balls and starting counter-attacks with precise passes. For the second leg though Bayern will need to focus on the offensive part of the game. Another game without conceding a goal versus the dreaded Liverpool attack seems highly unlikely, so Bayern will have to score. A potential adjustment could be to give the wingers more freedom in staying higher up the pitch, which in turn could lead to defensive instability though.
Ryan: The good is definitely on the defensive side – leaving Anfield without giving up a goal and holding Liverpool to only two shots on target – especially considering Liverpool’s attacking prowess (and some of our “defensive deficiencies” this season). On the other side, we have had issues taking advantage of scoring opportunities, as seen in the performance at Anfield. Far too often we rely on the explosive speed of Coman and Gnabry to pass a defender and cross a ball (often aimlessly) into the box, only to be greeted by the opposing CB’s. With the uncertainty of Coman’s availability and the return of van Dijk, Bayern will have to be far more creative in their attack. Gnabry impressed in the first leg and I would like to see a lot more direct attacking from Gnabry, similar to what we saw in the Pokal against Hertha where he scored 2 goals. We have seen brilliant performances from Die Roten at the Allianz and I expect one on Wednesday.
Mark: Time will tell if the 0-0 at Anfield was an especially good result for Bayern, bearing in mind VVD’s absence in the heart of LFC defence or Bayern will pay for their lack of ambition. Lewandowski hardly had a sniff of goal despite LFC missing their defensive talisman. Bayern’s top scorer needs to step up to the plate in a big game for Bayern to progress, for that to happen he needs to be provided with the bullets that he didn’t receive in the first leg.
Owen: The first match was like Joachim Low’s “scratch and sniff” – extremely unpleasant to watch. However, many Liverpool fans, including myself, were quite surprised to see how pleased Bayern’s players and fans seemed to be with 0-0 at Anfield. No-one is underestimating Bayern at your fantastic stadium, but a win or a score draw seems very possible for Liverpool. We will have to attack better, of course, but don’t listen to any nonsense about Mo Salah not being on form: he’s still capable of brilliance. Firmino is back after a slight injury against United, and Mané is having his best ever season in terms of goals.
Marc: As the others have mentioned, the first leg seemed like a relatively good result to both sides. Bayern fans were happy to go to Anfield and not concede a goal. Liverpool fans were reasonably happy to not concede a goal as well since any scored draw now will put the English Reds through. While in years past, a 0-0 draw away might have seemed an unfavorable result, this Bayern side has been middling to poor for long stretches of the season. The defense has been shaky and the prospect of facing these attackers filled us with dread. That all seemed like a distant memory when the two sides finally met. Every player committed to their defensive duties and the result was a very compact and disciplined team. This defensive focus however led to a complete lack of offense. Apart from one or two decent chances early, Bayern barely bothered Alisson all game. In the return leg they will have to find some balance to maintain that defensive stability while finding a way to create and finish a few chances in front of goal.
Liverpool are winless in their last 3 games, meanwhile Bayern have won two and drawn one. How much does each team’s current form play into our expectations for Wednesday’s match?”
Maurice: The current form most certainly is Bayern’s biggest advantage. Ever since the winter break the team has been on a tear and the latest results have been promising. The team is back to winning league games at a high rate. Most of those wins seem to be fueled by their mentality and sheer willpower. This could be a game changer in the return leg as well..
Ryan: I think it means everything as a Bayern fan. We’ve seen great results followed up with abysmal performances all season, leaving us with little understanding of what the team is actually capable of. The last three matches were a sandwich made of a great defensive performance and offensive performance wrapped around…. Whatever that was in Berlin. I think the race for top spot with BVB this season is actually great for our UCL chances by forcing the team to continue working and improving rather than sleepwalking through the season. If the performance against Gladbach is a sign of the team turning a corner and heading in the right direction, I think we have a lot to be optimistic about going into the 2nd leg with Liverpool.
Mark: All of a sudden after BVB’s implosion, Bayern look on course for a domestic double and are in pole position against stuttering Liverpool, who were expected to beat a supposedly frail Bayern in the first leg. For the return in the Bavarian capital, the pressure is off a little for the English Reds, transferred a little to the German Reds in their own backyard. I don’t see current form as overly vital, it’s now 90 minutes (or 120 minutes & penalties) between two very evenly matched sides.
Owen: For Liverpool, we have drawn our last three away games, 1-1 vs West Ham, 0-0 vs Manchester United, and 0-0 vs Everton.
In that time, we’ve also played three home games: we won 3-0 against Bournemouth, drew 0-0 with Bayern, and thumped Watford 5-0. Home and away, we haven’t conceded a goal in five matches, so we look really solid.
However, our attacking play away from home has been very poor recently, and our pass completion was a mere 74% in our last match against Everton. This has to change if we want to progress, but you never know with Liverpool. If we play the way we played against Watford (they’re not such a bad team) I honestly think we’re unstoppable. If we play like we did against Everton, we don’t have a chance. Any look at recent form is a bit skewed, though, because Liverpool are under immense pressure to win our first domestic league title for 29 years. The Champions League could be a welcome distraction for the players.
Marc: The form of both teams certainly seems relevant. So often in athletics, confidence can make the difference where little else separates the two sides. It has also been known to inspire less talented sides to beat their opposition. Bayern are on a bit of a tear right now and Liverpool have struggled of late. Liverpool’s away record and Bayern’s home record also seem to indicate an advantage for Bayern. That being said, it would be foolish in the extreme to think that Bayern have the upper hand simply because of these reasons. Form is subject to change at the slightest of provocations. A few calls one way, a bounce or two another and suddenly everything seems to be crashing around you or opening up beautifully. As Munich fans, we are all hoping that things continue going as they have been but we also have to be realistic enough to expect Liverpool’s best game. For that reason, the reality is that form means everything and nothing at the same time.
Liverpool will get back Virgil van Dijk and Bayern will be without the suspended Kimmich and Müller. How does this affect the tie?”
Maurice: Missing both Müller, who recently had a great outing against Gladbach, and Kimmich, who is leading the team in assists, is huge. With Rafinha set as the default replacement for the German right-back, watch out for a different interpretation of the right-back position. Throughout the last few years the Brazilian has lost his offensive touch a little, but is an underrated defender, who likes to drive his opponents – and yes sometimes himself – insane. With Kimmich out as an offensive contributor, Alaba will have to be the fullback to run up the pitch and support the offense. Van Dijk’s return will be tough for Bayern as Lewandowski already struggled to create shots against his replacements. The Polish striker will need the support from midfield, especially from James more than ever.
Ryan: The return of van Dijk is a huge boost for Liverpool at the back and I expect nothing less than a world class performance from him, which again plays into my fears of our inability to convert on goal scoring opportunities. Although Müller hasn’t been great this season, he does seem to bring out the best in Lewandowski. However, I wasn’t overly concerned with the absence of Müller until the loss of Coman and the uncertainty of Robben’s fitness which leave us very short handed on attackers. How do you replace Kimmich? You don’t. We will need the performance of a lifetime from Rafa.
Mark: Kimmich is a big loss going forward with his pinpoint crossing and feverish running down the right flank. He’s an assist machine for Bayern but, if being savagely honest, he is an average defender under pressure. Obviously, after his back-up Rafinha threw his toys out of the pram recently, it will be interesting to see what tactical plan Kovac has up his sleeve. Topically, after Jogi Löw’s shock dumping of Hummels and Boateng, Kovac also now has two very motivated World Cup winners at his disposal with a major point to prove. As well as being Liverpool’s defensive rock and talisman, VVD will be a huge threat from set pieces too. Joel Matip, the ex-Schalke defender, who has never beaten Bayern in the Bundesliga in umpteen attempts, frittered away a few golden chances in the first leg.
Owen: If you don’t follow the Premier League very closely, you won’t know what a monster Virgil Van Dijk is. He is many people’s favourite to become only the third central defender in PL history to become Player Of The Season (after Vidic and Kompany). He wins every tackle, he wins every header, he reads the game like it were a toddler’s bedtime story, he’s as calm as a zen master on valium, he motivates those around him, he can play 60/70-metre passes, he organises the offside line: you name it, he can do it, and do it brilliantly. He’s probably not just the best defender in the world today, he’s the best I’ve ever seen play for Liverpool, and I’ve seen some greats over the last 30 years.
Marc: This is obviously a boon for Liverpool and disadvantage for Bayern. Müller has been playing well and Kimmich is so vitally important to the buildup and offensive game plan that they will certainly be missed. On the other side, Van Dijk is one of the top central defenders in world football and should certainly increase Liverpool’s chances. That being said, I tend to think the impact is perhaps being blown a bit out of proportion. Rafinha is a strong defender who is also capable of popping up at the right moment to provide support on the wings. Müller offers a different element to the game than James but James may have been the preferred choice here anyways. Finally, while Van Dijk is a fantastic defender and dangerous on set pieces, Liverpool have still struggled defensively all season. While these additions and subtractions obviously impact the options available to both coaches and also the capabilities of both squads, I’m not sure that they will ultimately impact the game in a meaningful way.
While Bayern had a solid defensive showing against Liverpool at Anfield, the attack never really got going. Does Bayern have what it takes to both stay defensively disciplined and create dangerous opportunities in front of Alisson’s goal?
Maurice: Despite his focus on this topic since the beginning of preseason, Kovac has yet to show, that he can think of a game plan to do exactly that. However, the team has shown a possible escape route in the match against Gladbach, when they tremendously limited losing the ball in the center of the pitch. If they can keep this going, a lot of Liverpool’s counter attacks could be avoided. Once set on defense, Bayern has looked kind of stable in the second half of the season.
Ryan: The simple answer is yes – Bayern does have what it takes. We’ve seen it at times this season and given the disciplined performance at Anfield, there is no doubt we can improve on that performance at the Allianz Arena. Bayern win at home in the Champions League having only lost 2 of their previous 26 UCL home matches. Bayern have also been solid defensively in the Champions League only conceding 0.7 goals per game. The bigger question is if we can score. 9 shots and 0 on target like at Anfield will obviously not get the job done. Coman’s status leaves a big question mark on the ability to “create the dangerous opportunities in front of Alisson’s goal”. The winger was rounding into form and his loss is a serious concern given our reliance on the wings to create chances in the box. The return of Robben would alleviate some of these concerns but I am still not fully confident going into a must win match with a heavy reliance on Ribery and Gnabry alone.
Mark: Who would have thought the first leg would have ended 0-0? Everyone was tipping goals and chances galore on account of Bayern’s defensive porousness and Liverpool’s exciting array of offensive talent. Of course, both sides have the weapons to hurt each other, but a fit Kingsley Coman would help the Bayern cause immensely. In the end, it could come down to who has the best / luckiest goalkeeper on the night. Manuel Neuer or his Brazilian counterpart Alisson? It’s tantalisingly poised.
Owen: Sorry I don’t watch enough Bayern games to comment on your attack specifically. Our defence, however – despite the magical Virgil – has been surprisingly rocky away from home in the Champions League this season, conceding 5 times in our 3 group games, including 2 at Red Star Belgrade. That was a while ago, though: we’re more solid now.
Marc: This is what I think will ultimately decide the match. If Kovac, and by extension the players, can strike that perfect balance Bayern has a chance. While I expect Kovac to play slightly more open at home, I would still expect Bayern to be relatively compact at the back and very disciplined. That being the case, a genuine counterattacking side is a real probability. If Coman and Gnabry are both healthy, they would provide an invaluable asset to this tactic as both are extremely fleet of foot and can potentially exploit Liverpool in the open field. Set pieces may also play an important role. While Bayern aren’t necessarily the best team in the world on set pieces, they do have players capable of providing excellent service and have enough height and talent to put the ball in the back of the net.
Javi Martinez has been the renaissance man over the last two weeks for Bayern. While he and Thiago seem like locks in the midfield, who should be the third starter?”
Ryan: I got Javi on the back of the home kit for this season – an absolute warrior who has given his all (including his health and body) for this club. While I was traveling I couldn’t believe the amount of people who couldn’t understand why I would get Javi on the back of my kit. I think it really goes to show how understated his value to the club is and why people were so quick to write him off after some poor performances earlier this season. Javi was an absolute wall in front of the back four in Anfield. That third starter is a really tough call but I have to give the nod to James in terms of creativity on the ball moving forward.
Mark: James will start on home soil, barring injury.
Maurice: I agree with Mark. James has to start. His security with the ball as well as his capability to escape traps are most vital to reduce the number of counter attacks. However, if Coman were out on Wednesday, we will most likely see James moved to the wing and Goretzka return to the starting line-up.
Owen: Hopefully my Aunty Cynthia will start for you guys. She’s not very good, but she’s enthusiastic, and she’s available on a free transfer if you’re interested.
Marc: Assuming we don’t sign Owen’s Aunty Cynthia, I have to agree with everyone else and go with James. I think ultimately he provides the most well rounded game in a midfield against Liverpool when combined with Javi and Thiago. James provides an additional player who is comfortable on the ball, capable of passing his way out of danger and able to start an attack. He is also very intelligent in his positioning and defensive duties which allows a little more freedom to Thiago and Javi. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is one of the first players subbed off by Kovac. Goretzka or Sanches could very well see time early in the game, for Kovac, depending on how the momentum is shifting and the score. Both players provide a different skill set from what James does and it is one of the few positions where we will actually have depth heading into this game.
Ryan: This feels like a 2-1 result – an early Bayern goal erased by a late first half Liverpool equalizer and finished with a winning goal for Bayern late in the second half.
Maurice: This is a tough one. The Allianz-Arena at home in the Champions League is an underrated fortress. I’ve got to agree with Ryan on this one. 2-1 feels like a good result. Fingers crossed.
Mark: 1-1. Lewandowski’s late penalty not enough to cancel out an early VVD header as away goals bite Bayern’s bum again. * I might change my mind nearer the game, depending on Coman’s fitness. I’m a huge admirer (no, not that sort of way) of the young Frenchman’s talents.
Owen: I think Liverpool will edge it, 1-0 in extra time.
Marc: There’s a level of irony here that everyone expected tons of goals in the first match and now we’re all guessing low scores. For that reason, I’m going to pick Bayern to win 3-2. I think an early goal might just open up the game and result in more fireworks for both sides. Honestly though, I think this game is a toss up and am simply hoping for the best.
I want to give a big thanks to our guest contributors Ryan, Mark and Owen. Maurice has also made an appearance on Owen’s latest Kop On! podcast, to preview the match. Pack mas!