By Padraig O’Callaghan – @AGameOfTwoHalfz
Liverpool travel to Germany to face Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena and fight for a place in the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Champions League.
Liverpool returned to winning ways at Anfield, beating a dodged Burnley team 4-2, this result saw them close the gap on Manchester City to a single point.
The front three put in their best performance since the turn of the year which can only be a good thing ahead of three very important months.
Like Liverpool, Bayern Munich put in arguably their best performance under Niko Kovac as their tore Wolfsburg apart in a 6-0 victory, the result saw Bayern Munich regain top spot leapfrogging Jurgen Klopp’s old club Borussia Dortmund.
Liverpool have had mixed form over the past couple of months and it can be pretty much split between home and away. The Reds’ have won four of their five home league games in 2019 while away from home they have picked up three points on just one occasion, drawing three and losing one.
In two of our three league games prior to our victory over Burnley, Liverpool travelled to Everton and Manchester United. Both teams were there for the taking yet in both Liverpool failed to impress and didn’t take the little chances they created.
In our two recent home games, the two outlets we depend most on were the difference makers, against Watford, both out full backs were immense as they registered five assists between them showing how dangerous we can be from wide areas.
Their effectiveness might not be as clear away from home due to the opposing team’s wingers staying forward rather than joining the midfield.
Adam Lallana was reintroduced into the starting XI to the surprise of many. The Englishman who has had his Liverpool career tarnished by injuries had a hand in Liverpool’s first two goals, spraying the ball out wide for the first before winning the ball high up the pitch for the second.
Having an attacking midfielder in the team allows for more space for the front three due to a extra man in the box giving the opposition defence another problem to contend with.
Bayern Munich have seemed to hit form at the right stage of the season, their manager Niko Kovac has been under pressure to produce performances worthy of champions but got off to a shaky start.
The German side have only lost once in 17 games and, after a tricky start to the campaign which saw them in second place, nine points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund, last weekend they claimed top spot in the Bundesliga thanks to their winning streak and BVB’s faltering form.
Over the past two games they have netted 11 goals, star man Robert Lewandowski scored four while Serge Gnabry and Thomas Muller got two each. The Germans’ good form could be a good thing for Liverpool, their increased confidence could mean they push more men forward leaving space for Liverpool to exploit in behind.
German football teams have arguably the most intelligent football knowledge in Europe so it’s likely whatever way they do set up, it will probably be the right set up. This means that’s Jurgen Klopp needs to get his tactics spot on as he did so many times on the way to the final last season.
Our away form in Europe this season however is horrendous – the Reds have lost all three away games thus far – so it will take a valiant performance for Liverpool to progress.
Team news and expected lineups
Jurgen Klopp has a fully fit squad to choose from apart from long-term absentees Joe Gomez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It is hoped that both, however, will be back in the first team after the international break.
Virgil van Dijk should return to the defence after missing the first leg though suspension. Joel Matip faltering performance against Burnley could mean Dejan Lovren start, but due to the Croatians fitness the Cameroonians place is safe, for now.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson had quite a poor game for their standards at the weekend and, with both coming up against very tricky wingers in Kinglsey Coman and Serge Gnabry, the duo will play a large part in the game.
Naby Keita should start due to his experience in playing against the German champions, his game time however has been non-existent over the past couple of weeks meaning its likely instead that we will see two of Gini Wijnaldum, James Milner or Jordan Henderson in midfield along with Fabinho.
Adam Lallana will probably be sat on the bench despite his excellent performance but with the Reds facing a Fulham side all but certain for relegation, the Englishman will probably make his 12 appearance of the season at Craven Cottage.
Sadio Mané will look to continue his excellent record away from home in the knockout stages, the Senegalese international scored in all but one of each away leg, netting a total of five goals including a memorable hat-trick in Porto.
He will be joined up front by Roberto Firmino, who scored two against Burnley, and Mohamed Salah who is on his longest run without finding the back of the net – four games.
How well Firmino plays will depend on who’s in midfield, not much is talked about this but the Brazilian plays better when there is a creative outlet in midfield meaning he can go about his business further up the pitch, without one he has to take responsibility for creativity in a deeper role where he doesn’t have much of an effect.
Niko Kovac’s favoured formation is 3-5-2, a tactic he used at Frankfurt last season, masterminding a victory over Bayern in the DFB Pokal using said system. Due to resources available however, the ex-Munich player has utilised 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations during his turbulent time at the Allianz Arena.
Manuel Neuer should start in goal. Joshua Kimmich is suspended meaning Rafinha and David Alaba will be the ones with their hands busy coming up against Mane and Salah. Matt Hummels and Nicklas Sule will probably form the centre back pairing after impressing at Anfield meaning Jerome Boatang will have to settle for a place on the bench.
Bundesliga player of the month for January, Leon Goretzka, may start slightly ahead of a double pivot of Javi Martinez and Thiago Alcantara, though James Rodriguez – linked with a move to Liverpool in recent times – could also start.
Franck Ribery and an injured Arjen Robben are both doubtful meaning we will get to see Bayern’s young breed of wide men again. Kingsley Coman who was a major doubt for this game after a recurrence of an injury is likely to be declared fit to line up with Serge Gnabry on the flanks supporting the lethal Robert Lewandowski.
Danger man: Thiago Alcantara
Coming through the famous Barcelona academy which has produced midfielders such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, Thiago is one of the best midfielders in the world and is a vital cog for Niko Kovac.
The official Bundesliga YouTube channel released a video showcasing the talent the Spanish International has and why he is so important for Bayern Munich, it’s well worth a watch.
Thiago often plays as part of a double-pivot alongside the defensive minded Javi Martinez. He uses his unrivalled footballing brain to find space around the pitch, something which can be quite difficult when playing in the most crowded part of the pitch.
He is Bayern’s go-to man when in possession, he makes himself available to receive the ball, with a smart delicate touch he can beat three players with ease. Because of this skill he can make the opposition press redundant which could spell trouble for Jurgen Klopp if he does approach this game like last season’s European ties.
His passing is one of the best around and almost always looks to play a ball in behind the defence when possible. With a 93% pass completion, Thiago usually finds his intended target and with minimal time on the ball.
Bayern Munich haven’t won without the Spanish International this season, proving his worth to the side, Fabinho is often given the task of marking a player like this out of the game but because of Thiago deep starting position it will be much more difficult to mark him out of the game.
Liverpool have quite a good record against German opposition in the Champions League in the 21st Century – of the six games they have played prior to the first-leg, they have won four, drawn one and lost one.
The trip to the Allianz Arena will be a difficult one especially since, at the moment, the Bavaria region is covered in a blanket of snow. Jurgen Klopp won’t be able to use the weather as an excuse, however, as the Allianz Arena possesses a state-of-the-art undersoil heating system meaning any snow on the pitch should melt.
Liverpool edged the first-leg at Anfield and were unlucky not to score a couple, while Bayern’s best chances came from sloppy Reds play at the back. Due to the Germans being at home it should mean they are more attacking which should suit Liverpool.
Being away from home, the first Liverpool goal means Bayern have to score two, which is obviously needed, if Liverpool were to score first it could be quite an easy game for us, similar to the pre-season game 18 months ago.
If Bayern go ahead, the only way I see Liverpool going through is a score draw, which is what I’m predicting. Liverpool to progress to the quarters with a 2-2 draw on the night.
Lewandowski will give the home side the lead, before Liverpool score two through Mané and Firmino. As Liverpool rarely do things the easy way, a late Bayern goal will bring out the nerves but away goals should see Liverpool through.
Final score: Bayern Munich 2 (Lewandowski, Gnabry) – 2 Liverpool (Mané, Firmino)