It is not very often in Champions League knockout stages that the likes of Real Madrid, PSG, and most likely Juventus, find themselves out of the tournament at the last sixteen hurdle. But that is exactly the case in this season’s Champions League and that makes it more enticing for the teams that are still alive in the competition. Liverpool are one of those teams and they will travel to Allianz Arena in Munich to take on Bayern Munich on Wednesday night. Both teams will be keen to progress as possibly easier ties await them in subsequent stages of quarters and semi-finals.
The Bayern that will take field on this Wednesday is a far cry from the team that started the season in mediocre form or for that matter, the one that visited Anfield in the first leg and did not get a single shot on target. These days, the Bavarians are a free-scoring bunch, who have displaced Borussia Dortmund from the top of the Bundesliga table. They have scored 11 goals in their last two games against Monchengladbach and Wolfsburg. In this form, it will take a tremendous effort from Liverpool to eliminate Bayern from the competition on Wednesday night.
But there are only a few teams that can realistically claim that they can possibly stop such a rampaging Bayern team in its tracks. One of them is Liverpool. The Reds’ trajectory mirrors Bayern’s fortunes over the season. They started the season unbeaten for a long time, climbed to the summit of the Premier League table and then recently conceded the pole position to Manchester City. Even their journey through the Group Stages was not as smooth as Bayern’s. Liverpool come into this game having beaten Burnley 4-2 at home. Away from home they have not been as dominant as they have managed two 0-0 draws in their last two away games. Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that his side get at least a score draw on Wednesday.
- Of the 31 teams that have drawn the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie 0-0, 21 (68%) have ended up progressing to the next round. If that is not ominous enough for Liverpool, their hosts Bayern Munich are attempting to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the eighth consecutive time, since they were knocked out by Inter Milan in the last 16 tie of the 2010-2011 season.
- But Liverpool have favourable history against their hosts. The Reds have lost only one of their eight games against Bayern (W2D5), that loss coming way back in November 1971. The two sides have met only once in the European Cup/Champions League before this season – in the 1980/81 semi-finals when Liverpool progressed on away goals after securing a 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena. The same scoreline can take the Reds through to the quarterfinals this time too.
- Bayern failed to have a single shot on target in the first leg against Liverpool, a first for the Bavarians in the Champions League since their semi-final first leg against Barcelona in May 2015. But the chances of them drawing a blank at home are rather bleak. Bayern have failed to score only once in last 26 Champions League home games, that was against Sevilla in last season’s quarterfinals.
- Unlike their domestic form, especially in defence, Liverpool have been decidedly awful in the Champions League away games. They have now lost four consecutive away games in the Champions League, scoring just three goals and conceding nine in return.
Lewandowski has scored 23 goals in his last 22 Champions League games at the Allianz Arena, including nine goals in the last 10 knockout games. He is in terrific form otherwise as well – scoring two braces each in Bayern’s wins against Wolfsburg and Borussia M. Gladbach. His rich vein of form can be better understood by looking at the expected numbers – in Bundesliga his xG90 is 1.01 and xA90 is 0.32 i.e. Lewandowski is more than 100% likely to score if he plays 90 minutes. His xG90 in Champions League is also a very robust 0.87. Furthermore, he has also scored two back-to-back braces in his last two home games in the Champions League. It is certain that he will be the most important threat to Liverpool on Wednesday night.
Virgil van Dijk
When you are facing a goal machine like Lewandowski, you need a top class defence to give yourself a decent chance of progressing. While Liverpool’s entire defence might not yet be termed top-class, Virgil van Dijk is definitely one of the best defenders in the world. The Dutchman is back after serving his suspension of one game in the first leg. VVD’s defensive contributions include a 7.77 CBI (clearances-blocks-interceptions) per game in the Champions League and a 57.5% success rate in aerial duels, which can help him against Lewandowski. Moreover, as he proved in the game against Watford, if he gets good service in the opponents’ box, he can make them pay dearly. That is exactly what Jurgen Klopp will be hoping for from VVD on Wednesday.
Joshua Kimmich received a third yellow card of the tournament in the first leg and joins Thomas Muller on the sidelines through suspension. Rafinha will come in at right-back, while Serge Gnabry may switch flanks to that side to enable Franck Ribery to replace Muller from the 6-0 win over Wolfsburg. David Alaba could be available to be picked but if he is not, then Jerome Boateng could cover on the left-back, while Rafinha will move to the right-back.
For Liverpool, Virgil van Dijk is back available having missed the first leg through suspension, with both Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren still sidelined. Although rumours about the return of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain abound, it is unlikely that Klopp will reintroduce him in such a high-stakes game. Adam Lallana put in a great performance against Burnley, but he is likely to make way for Henderson or Milner in the midfield. In fact, midfield selection will be Klopp’s biggest headaches.
Yes, Bayern are in a great form and yes, they will come at Liverpool on Wednesday night. But the Reds’ defence and their potential of counter-attacking aggressive opponents should give them enough to hold the Bavarians to a score draw, which would, of course, mean that Liverpool will progress to the quarterfinals.
Bayern Munich 2 – 2 Liverpool