Bayern Munich are in town on Tuesday as Liverpool Champions League last 16 opponents; here’s everything on the German side’s build-up to the Anfield clash.
The current second-place sides from Premier League and Bundesliga both have top spots in their sights domestically, but that takes a back-seat for the midweek action.
There’s a disparity alongside that similarity: the Reds have a game in hand and can go back to the top with even a draw, while Bayern have been in catch-up mode and still trail Borussia Dortmund by two points having played a game more.
All that can wait though—it’s the last 16 first leg in Europe next, and a real mix of positives and negatives that Bayern bring with them.
Route to the last 16
Bayern topped Group C, unbeaten and with 14 points from their six games, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story.
It was very much a two-team battle for top spot and Ajax gave Bayern two tremendous games—the Dutch outfit can feel very hard done by to have only taken a point from the Allianz Arena, while a back-and-forth encounter in Amsterdam ended 3-3.
The telling game, ultimately, was Ajax’s 1-1 draw at Benfica, while Bayern won.
Robert Lewandowski’s exploits are to be noted: he hit eight goals in just six games, while both full-backs—Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba—provided two assists each.
- Won 2-0 away to Benfica
- Drew 1-1 at home to Ajax
- Won 2-0 at AEK Athens
- Won 2-0 at home to AEK Athens
- Won 5-1 at home to Benfica
- Drew 3-3 at Ajax
Mixed, is the word.
Bayern had a poor start to the season domestically by their own high standards, embarking on a run of just two wins in eight Bundesliga games between late September and late November.
They have since turned it around in terms of results, winning nine of 10 league games and losing the other.
Since the winter break ended, Bayern have played five games in 2019—one of those in the German Cup—and only Bayer Leverkusen have stopped them winning.
Leverkusen’s 3-1 victory was richly deserved and the product of good organisation, fast breaks after turnovers in midfield and a pacy, three-pronged attack.
Most recently, Bayern beat Augsburg 3-2 on Friday night, but the performance was full of uncertainty with misplaced passes, an own goal conceded inside 14 seconds and lots of chances given up at the back.
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer made his return from a two-game absence in that win over Augsburg, a critical addition to Niko Kovac’s team. He’ll wear the captain’s armband at Anfield.
Franck Ribery also continued his recovery after his latest injury, but it would be a surprise to see him start the first leg.
The 35-year-old has only played 77 minutes in 2019, spread across three substitute appearances, and it’s more probable that Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman will start out wide.
Coman himself was an injury scare after taking a knock to the ankle late in the win over Augsburg, but announced on Saturday that he’d be fit to play the first leg and has been training alone in the build-up over the weekend.
Arjen Robben is unlikely to recover from injury in time to feature in the tie at all, but certainly won’t make the first leg. Corentin Tolisso is a long-term absentee.
While not injured, Thomas Muller will miss both legs through suspension after earning a two-match ban. Bayern did appeal the extra game, but it was rejected.
The players of Bayern are naturally looking forward to the spectacle of the Champions League, but Anfield itself holds mixed views in the eyes of the squad.
“Everybody’s seriously looking forward to the match,” he said to the club website. “The atmosphere is something special, an awesome feeling to play there. I’m expecting a really exciting match.”
That view isn’t shared though by Robben, who has previously experienced difficult nights at the famous old ground, particularly in Europe with Chelsea.
“I think, if you ask [about] the worst stadium for me, it’s probably Liverpool,” he told Nick Ames of the Guardian.
“The manager has done a great job. Last year they were in the Champions League final and at the moment they are top [of the Premier League]. It’s a long, long time ago that they won the league and that’s the one they’re dreaming of.”
Finally, skipper Neuer has said the team must cut out the mistakes at the back, or else face a troublesome night.
“The game was all great, but conceding the goals was, of course, madness. You cannot do that. Liverpool will have more chances to score.”
The talking may go on for another day, but then it’s down to the action and the first half of the battle to see if the Reds can progress to the last eight.