Niko gets it right: Three takeaways from Liverpool v FC Bayern
Robert Lewandowski and Co. had a quiet night, but this was all part of Niko Kovač’s plan. It will all be up for grabs at the Allianz Arena three weeks from now.
Bayern fans were more than aware of the team’s frailties this season. The biggest of these has been a defensive back line that has been particularly porous. Against FC Augsburg at the weekend, Die Roten were caught by two sucker punches, and were guilty of a hatful of errors.
Naturally, we all feared the prospect of playing Liverpool, a team that has been in spectacular goal-scoring form. While there were a few moments of good fortune and some sub-par finishing from the English Reds, the Bavarians picked the perfect time to give us their first clean sheet of 2019.
Every man played his part. David Alaba kept his forward runs to a minimum, but was solid at the back. Niklas Süle had a few hairy moments, but also kept his head when it mattered. Joshua Kimmich played the almost perfect role at right-back, the only blot on his copybook being the yellow card that will keep him out of the second leg.
The standout performance however came from Mats Hummels, who did not put a foot wrong all evening. The errors were nowhere to be seen, and everything was textbook solidity.
While Hummels was my man of the match, I have chosen to doff my critic’s cap for Javi Martínez.
Javi has come in for some serious stick in recent seasons, often described by both fans and commentators as something of a has-been. The Spanish defensive midfielder may clearly have his best days behind him, but against Liverpool he was a Trojan.
It was truly a vintage display.
Against a team that has scored a stack of goals this season, Javi was immense. He made up for his lack of pace with his positioning and intelligence, and a level of full-blooded commitment that went above and beyond what was expected. By the final whistle he was almost dead on his feet, having put his body on the line for the entire 90 minutes.
Liverpool have been poor on their travels in the Champions League this season, while Bayern have been more shaky than usual at home. It all makes for an perfectly balanced second leg at the Allianz, with everything to play for.
Naturally, we will expect Lewy and pals to step up. Liverpool will also look to raise their game, and there is little doubt that old nemesis Jürgen Klopp will be confident of pinching at least one away goal. A clean sheet at Anfield is no mean feat, but it will count for nothing if we cannot complete the job three weeks from now.
Niko Kovač has been under constant scrutiny, with many suggesting that he is not up to the job. Time will be the real judge of that, but this performance shows that there is definite potential. So long as the coach and the players are singing from the same hymn sheet, we will have good things to talk about.
Back in 1981, an FC Bayern team containing the likes of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Paul Breitner met Liverpool in the semi-final of the then European Cup. They also drew 0:0 at Anfield. This was the tie that sparked my love affair with FC Bayern, a moment that was later tinged with the disappointment of an away goals defeat. I am hoping for a different outcome this time around.