With a disciplined but uncharacteristically defensive performance at Anfield three weeks ago, Bayern Munich didn’t allow themselves to be blown away by Liverpool’s formidable attack and avoided the fate suffered by other top teams on Merseyside in recent years.
The German champions will now feel they’re in a strong position to finish the job at home in front of their own fans and reach the quarterfinal of the Champions League for the eighth year in a row.
But with the away goals rule now favoring Liverpool, the goalless draw also brings with it considerable risks, and coach Niko Kovac will need to get his tactics spot on.
DW looks at how Bayern may approach the game:
1. Fight fire with fire
“It’s a final! The stadium will be on fire!” said Bayern goalkeeper and captain Manuel Neuer at Tuesday’s press conference, referring to the atmosphere he expects at the Allianz Arena. And it certainly will be electric if Bayern take an early lead – so will Kovac go for the jugular right away?
Bayern’s fans stuck with their team at Anfield and their support will be needed again
Since the 0-0 draw in Liverpool three weeks ago, Bayern have brushed aside Hertha Berlin, Borussia Mönchengladbach and Wolfsburg by a combined score of 12-1, regaining top spot in the Bundesliga for the first time since September in the process.
Robert Lewandowski has scored a brace in each of those games and is the top scorer in this season’s Champions League with eight goals – although he hasn’t scored in any of Bayern’s last six European knockout ties. Behind him, Serge Gnabry has notched two goals of his own plus an assist since the first leg while James Rodriguez, who looks set to start in place of the suspended Thomas Müller, underlined his quality with a well-taken finish against the Wolves.
Kovac could be tempted to push all three forward in search of an early goal, supported by Thiago Alcantara, who can lend his own offensive abilities to the attack.
“I’m in the mood to see us play even more effectively at home with the tailwind of our fans,” said Kovac. “We have shown lots of spirit and creativity in the Bundesliga going forward, so I don’t think it will end 0-0.”
Lewandowski and Gnabry have hit top form for Bayern in recent weeks
2. Keep it tight and don’t concede
After keeping a clean sheet at home, the away goals rule is now very much in Liverpool’s favor going into the second leg, creating a doubly dangerous situation for Bayern.
Not only would a Liverpool goal leave the Bavarians needing two, it would also force them to come out, in turn leaving them even more vulnerable to conceding again. Knowing the attacking potential he has at his disposal in Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, it’s a scenario which will have Jürgen Klopp licking his lips, so don’t be surprised to see Liverpool come flying out of the traps.
Bayern are well aware of what Liverpool did to Porto, Manchester City and Roma en route to last year’s Champions League final. “We have already seen what Liverpool can do so it’s important that we also have the right players to safeguard from corners and free-kicks,” said Kovac.
It’s why they dropped so deep at Anfield, even into their own penalty area, to escape Liverpool’s aggressive press and avoid leaving spaces in behind when Liverpool did win the ball – and Kovac may be tempted to do so again on Wednesday night, at least initially, to take the sting out of the game.
And here, Bayern’s absentees could actually prove to be a blessing in disguise. Joshua Kimmich is missing after picking up a third yellow card at Anfield but, despite the progress made, the youngster’s positional sense remains a problem for both club and country. His replacement at right-back, Brazilian veteran Rafinha, offers a more disciplined alternative.
Similarly on the left, although Kingsley Coman did take part in training on Tuesday, it wouldn’t be the end of the world from a defensive point of view if Kovac were forced to go with Franck Ribery.
“Franck needs games like this,” he said. “He can stamp his mark on the game with his name and his ability. We have to push forward – that’s important. But Liverpool are one of the best counter-attacking teams and we’ll have to draw a fine line.”
Bayern kept Mo Salah quiet at Anfield, but can they keep Liverpool at bay again?
3. Let them have the ball
As deadly as Liverpool’s front three can be, there have been encouraging signs for Bayern in recent weeks that the blade may not be as sharp as it once was, or at least that there are ways of blunting it.
Liverpool, who had a seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League at the turn of the year, were held to 1-1 draws by Leicester City and West Ham in the build-up to the goalless draw against Bayern, and further 0-0s against rivals Manchester United and Everton have followed since, as Liverpool have surrendered pole position.
In all of those games, Jürgen Klopp’s side has enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but has then struggled to break teams down. Similar to RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, Liverpool’s attacking philosophy is based on exploiting opposition mistakes with rapid transitions, but that relies upon the opposition having the ball in the first place.
So if Kovac opts to concede large amount of possession to Liverpool on Wednesday, it may not be a huge reason to worry, knowing that Bayern have deadly weapons of their own.
However Kovac chooses to play it, one thing is without doubt. As James Rodriguez said: “We have to play a perfect game.”
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