By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool welcome German giants Bayern Munich to Anfield, for the first leg of the round of 16 tie. Both clubs sit second in their respective leagues, but it is Liverpool who are in the better form of the two.
Niko Kovač is under immense pressure to turn Bayern Munich’s season around, as failing to win a major trophy could see him sacked at the end of the season.
Liverpool will look to replicate their form shown in last season’s Champions League, where they seemingly scored goals for fun on their way to the final – let’s hope they can go one better this time around.
Journey to the round of 16
Liverpool progressed to the knockout stages of the Champions League courtesy of 1-0 win over
Napoli on the last match day of the group stage. A wonder goal by star-man Mohamed Salah was the difference on the night, as the Egyptian left Mario Rui and Kalidou Koulibaly for dead before calmly slotting the ball into the bottom corner.
Things could have been much different though. Were it not for Alisson Becker’s wonder save in the last few minutes, Liverpool would have been competing in Europe’s second club competition, the Europa League.
Our home form is quite a contrast to our away. Losing all three on the road and failing to score from open play. All three matches saw Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner start, with Liverpool failing to get any foothold in the game.
At Anfield however, Liverpool have been more than a match for anyone, like it should be. Dominating massively in all three games which saw them come away with maximum points . Funnily enough the midfield of Henderson, Milner and Wijnaldum, which let us down on the road, worked wonders at home as it did during last seasons campaign.
When it comes to Bayern Munich, things aren’t always they appear to seem.
Despite progressing through Group C unbeaten with 14 points, the Germans were pushed all the way up to the final match-day by Ajax. The Dutch team were hard done by, only picking up two points from six, when arguably they should have picked up at least four points.
In matchday six, Ajax were eight minutes away from topping the group before Bayern scored two in three minutes to send them top. Ajax grabbed a goal back in stoppage time, but it proved too little too late for the four times Champions League winners.
Robert Lewansdowski’s exploits in the competition should be noted, as the Polish striker has romped his way through the group stage, playing in all six games and amassing a total of eight goals. Bayern’s wing-backs will also provide an added threat as both Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba have registered two assists so far.
Team news & expected line-ups
Liverpool could be without three of their four first team centre backs due to suspension and injury. Virgil van Dijk is banned, while Joe Gomez is out with his injury. Dejan Lovren is a major doubt, and will be given a late fitness test to see whether or not the Croatian can feature in the line-up.
Jordan Henderson and Fabinho have both been touted to partner Joel Matip in the centre of defence, the latter will be the most likely after his impressive performances in the same position against Brighton and Wolves.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson are likely to be Liverpool’s two starting wing-backs. Alexander-Arnold recently made his first appearance back from injury in the win over Bournemouth, and Robertson seems virtually unchallenged in the Red’s back-line.
Jurgen Klopp has said recently that Naby Keita is one of the first names on the team sheet, and given his history against the German Champions, the Guinean will likely start alongside Gini Wijnaldum – with either James Milner or Jordan Henderson forming the third man in the midfield.
Sadio Mane will look to find the back of the net for the fifth game running, while Salah and Roberto Firmino will look to add to their excellent record in the Champions League, where they have scored a combined 25 goals across both this season and last.
Firmino missed training on Monday because of a virus, but the club remain hopeful he will be available for this one.
The manager of Bayern Munich, Niko Kovač, has injury concerns of his own. Arjen Robben and and Jerome Boateng are out through injury. Franck Ribery was due to remain at home due to the birth of his child, but he will travel late and still join up with his teammates.
Thomas Muller is also ruled out of both legs after picking up a red card in Bayern Munich’s last group stage game against Ajax.
Niko Kovač’s favoured setup is 3-5-2, a formation he over saw at Frankfurt last season as he masterminded a victory over Bayern Munich in the DFB-Pokal final.
Due to resources available however, the ex- Bayern Munich player has utilised both a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 during his turbulent time at the Allianz Arena. Liverpool have often fared well against a 3-5-2 formation, as it allows for quick and effective counter’s in which they often isolate the three defenders.
Manuel Neuer should start in goal despite picking up a thumb injury in recent weeks.
Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba will have their hands busy coming up against Mane and Salah. Mats Hummels and Niklas Sule will probably form the centre back pairing after Boateng failed a late fitness test.
Bundesliga player of the month for January, Leon Goretzka should start alongside Thiago in a
midfield two. However, with the duo being quite attack minded and without a recognised defensive midfielder Bayern’s defence could end up being exposed on the counter.
With both Ribery and Robben missing out, Bayern’s young breed of wide men should get the chance to impress. Kingsley Coman has been declared fit for Tuesday and will likely complete an attacking quartet alongside James Rodriguez, Robert Lewandowski and ex-Arsenal boy Serge Gnabry.
Danger man: Robert Lewandowski
Jurgen Klopp has a knack at finding unknown talent and Robert Lewandowski is probably the best of quite a large group of players. Moving from Lech Poznan for a reported £4.5million, he helped Dortmund win consecutive Bundesliga titles and earned them a place in the 2013 Champions League Final.
After agreeing to move to his current team, Lewandowski has gone from strength to strength,
helping Bayern reclaim dominance in Germany, helping add four Bundesliga’s and numerous cups to his already impressive trophy cabinet.
Scoring a record high 190 league goals, The Pole has made a name for himself as one of the most lethal finishers in football.
Having found the back of the net 29 times for club and country this season, he has continued his remarkable record of scoring at least 25 goals for the last eight years. He is now looking to score 40 for the fourth consecutive season and looks well on his way to achieving the feat.
Being one of the most rounded strikers in recent history, his left foot is just as potent as his favoured right, while his heading is second to none. This season for instance 28% (eight) of his goals have come from headers, 16% (four) with his left and the remaining 56% (13) have come with his right.
Joel Matip’s lack of aerial dominance will likely mean Lewandowski will target the Cameroon
international to try and get on the score sheet. Due to our defensive problems I’m sure he will find the back of the net, its just a matter of keeping his goal tally as low as possible.
Liverpool will travel to Old Trafford at the weekend to take on Manchester United in attempt to regain top-spot in the Premier League. Despite the magnitude of the match on Sunday, I have no doubt that Klopp’s focus remains solely on Bayern Munich in this upcoming European fixture.
The talk from the Bayern Munich camp has been quite reserved for a club of their stature. Gnabry and Robben, both who have suffered heart break in the Champions League at Anfield, have talked about how the atmosphere can change the game, with Robben even saying that Anfield is the “worst stadium” he has played at.
Despite their current form and league position, Bayern Munich still have the players to hurt us.
Thiago and Rodriguez are two of the best midfielders in the world, while young guns Coman and
Gnabry have pace to burn.
Without either team having a defensive minded midfielder in the centre of the park, it will probably be end to end football with no real control from either teams.
With both sides facing defensive frailties, I think it will be a high scoring tie over the two legs. Our attack should be the difference in the first leg and the return of van Dijk should see us safely through in a couple weeks’ time.
I’m going for a 4-2 victory in Liverpool’s favour. I think both Keita and Firmino will be the difference makers, as both have first-hand experience of facing the Bavarian giants from their time in Germany. I’m predicting that all three members of our attacking trident will find the back of the net, and we could see Keita score his first Liverpool goal.
At the other end I don’t see us keeping a clean sheet, with a seasoned striker like Lewandowski it will be hard to stop the Germans.
Final score: Liverpool 4 (Mane, Salah, Firmino, Keita) – Bayern Munich 2 (Lewandowski, Rodriguez)