After a brief interlude European football will be back at Anfield on Tuesday night. In their round of 16 tie, Liverpool host the Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich on Tuesday. If one looks at the Premier League and Bundesliga tables as of now, we may see them as two very similar teams – both are placed second in their respective domestic leagues and both are separated from the respective league leaders by a whisker. However, the two teams have had two very different trajectories in the season so far – Liverpool have been playing some of the best football they have played in the Premier League era, only to see a recent drop in their levels, while Bayern Munich started the season abysmally but have rallied lately to almost catch up with Borussia Dortmund at the top. In Europe however, Liverpool have had a hiccup-filled ride, while Bayern has been sailing smoothly through the group stages. They are two similarly-placed teams, with very different trajectories to where they are and potentially different sets of priorities for the rest of the season.
It is said that Anfield is one of those venues that are just right for European football. It comes alive under the lights when far away teams visit, and generally sends them packing. Indeed, Bayern’s Arjen Robben has ample reason to call it one of his least-preferred venues. However, it is almost forgivable if Jurgen Klopp and his squad have their eyes set on a different, possibly more achievable target. Bayern’s mid-week visit is followed by Liverpool travel to Manchester United, to play one of the games that can make or break their season in the League. Not that, either Bayern’s visit or progress to Quarter Finals of the Champions League are trivial – especially for Jurgen Klopp who has just won 9 games against Bayern in his management career (D4 L16). But, last year, Klopp quite evidently loosened Liverpool in the league campaign to reach the final of the Champions League and it would be quite understandable if he did the reverse this season, as the Reds still have a game in hand against Manchester City in the league. Liverpool come into this game after warm-weather training in Spain, which they could afford as they were knocked out of the weekend’s FA Cup action and had no midweek game last week. Their last game was the home game against Bournemouth that they won easily. In Europe, their last game was the 1-0 thriller against Napoli at Anfield that they won due to Alisson’s heroics.
Bayern Munich had a torrid time in late September through to late November last year in the Bundesliga when they lost thrice and drew thrice in a space of eight League games. Since then, they have been far better domestically, winning 9 and losing one out of the next 10 league games. They won the last of those league wins on Saturday when they beat Augsburg 2-3 away from home. They were made to toil hard and escaped with all three points due to Manuel Neuer’s heroics in the goal. In Europe, they are unbeaten this season, winning four and drawing two games in the group stages. It is safe to say that Niko Kovac’s side is a resurgent side in form and is looking to get into the driving seat with an aim to land both the Bundesliga and Champions League titles.
- It is safe to say that Liverpool are not among Bayern’s favoured European opponents. The Germans have won only one of their seven matches in Europe against Liverpool (D4 L2), which was way back in 1971. Liverpool’s only previous encounter against Bayern in the Champions League/European Cup was in the 1980/81 semis, from which the Reds progressed on away goals (1-1 on aggregate).
- Liverpool are also unbeaten in 19 consecutive European matches at Anfield (W14 D5), last losing at home back in October 2014 against Real Madrid in the Champions League group stage (0-3). It is their second-longest unbeaten streak at home in European competition since their 40-match run between September 1974 and December 1991. It also helps that Bayern Munich have not scored a single goal against Liverpool at Anfield (3 games).
- But the Germans are no pushovers of course. They were one of the five teams to remain unbeaten in this season’s Champions League group stages, along with Ajax, Barcelona, Lyon, and Porto. They have also reached the semi-finals in seven of the last nine seasons.
- Bayern are also on a run of their own – a run of eight consecutive Champions League away matches without a defeat (W6 D2), with their last loss on road coming in September 2017 versus PSG (0-3). Between October 2012 and April 2014, they enjoyed a longer unbeaten away run in the competition (10 games).
It was a goal from Mohamed Salah that allowed Liverpool to sneak past Napoli from their group of death (PSG was also in the group). Including that, Salah has scored 3 goals in Europe this season, which amounts to xG90 of 0.44. If that seems a bit underwhelming given his form last season, his xG90 of 0.67 in the Premier League, along with his five goals in last seven Premier League appearances, and 11 key passes in the same seven games (1 assist), underline his quality. Salah will be key for Liverpool on Tuesday night as if he is able to give the Reds a quick goal or two, Klopp will be far more confident of progression to the next round.
No player has more goals in the Champions League group stages this season than Robert Lewandowski. His eight goals in six games, including braces in the last three, and his xG90 of 1.08 across those games underline his attacking threat the best. If he manages to score at Anfield, it will be his fifth consecutive game where he has scored, a feat he has never achieved before. Niko Kovac will be extremely hopeful that his striker is able to achieve that unique record.
For Liverpool, the deficiencies in central defence are exacerbated by the suspension of Virgil van Dijk for this first leg. With Dejan Lovren suffering a hamstring injury, the Reds will go into the game on Tuesday night with just one specialist centre-back – Joel Matip. Former Bayern player Xherdan Shaqiri also picked up an abdominal injury but might be in contention for a start on Tuesday. Joe Gomez and Alexander Oxlade Chamberlain are still more than a month away from a return.
For Bayern, Thomas Muller is out of both the legs due to suspension, but Kingsley Coman might be in contention despite limping off the pitch in the match against Augsburg. Kovac has a couple of selection decisions to make, including which of Javi Martinez or Leon Goretzka to go within central midfield.
Defeating Liverpool at Anfield these days has proven to be almost impossible. On a European night, more so. Niko Kovac can ask Thomas Tuchel who has had to endure two thrilling losses with Dortmund and PSG in recent times. Given the makeshift nature of their defence, the Reds might offer chances to Bayern but between them the 11 players on the pitch and the twelfth in the Kop should have enough to carry Liverpool into the second leg with some sort of a lead in terms of goals scored.