A midfield battle & Keita’s key role – The Bayern Munich view ahead of Champions League decider

11 March 2019

Liverpool visit Bayern Munich in a vital Champions League last-16 clash this week, but who is being tipped to reach the quarter-finals?


Jurgen Klopp‘s side recorded a much-needed 4-2 win over Burnley on Sunday lunchtime, returning to just a point behind Man City.

Premier League focus makes way for European commitments on Wednesday, however, as Liverpool face one of their biggest tests of the season.

The Reds drew 0-0 with Bayern in the first leg at Anfield last month, leaving the tie finely poised and a place in the last eight up for grabs.

With the game fast approaching, we spoke to This is Anfield writer and Bundesliga expert Chris Williams (@Chris78Williams) to hear about Bayern’s form and who he thinks will prevail.

 

How have Bayern Munich fared since the first leg?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, February 18, 2019: FC Bayern München's Thiago Alcántara and Robert Lewandowski during a training session at Anfield ahead of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Bayern München. (Pic by Paul Greenwood/Propaganda)

Not the best of news for Liverpool fans reading this: they’ve been utterly brilliant.

A close game with Hertha Berlin was turned into three points thanks to Javi Martinez. The midfielder had a storming game at Anfield then went on to bag the winner a few days later in the Allianz Arena.

Bayern Munich then went about scoring 11 goals in two games while only conceding once.

A 5-1 hammering of Borussia Monchengladbach was swiftly followed by a thumping of Wolfsburg, 6-0.

 

Do you fancy their chances of pipping Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga title now?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 19, 2019: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Bayern München at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Most definitely.

In a similar way to the Premier League, the Bundesliga has seen the second-placed team catch a points deficit to retake the top spot.

Bayern’s win against Wolfsburg on Saturday enabled them to storm back to the summit of the Bundesliga.

They’re playing like a different side to that seen three or four months ago.

 

Is there any key team news ahead of the game?

MUNICH, GERMANY - Wednesday, August 2, 2017: FC Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich during the Audi Cup 2017 match between Club S.S.C. Napoli and FC Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Obviously, Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller aren’t available due to suspension.

Kingsley Coman is touch and go to make the fixture, but Niko Kovac seemed in a positive mood Saturday evening he would make the Liverpool fixture.

Leon Goretzka, Niklas Sule and Renato Sanches were rotated to the bench for the last game, so I expect them to feature on Wednesday at some point.

 

How do you expect them to line up?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 19, 2019: FC Bayern Munich's head coach Niko Kova? reacts during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Bayern M¸nchen at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

At home Niko Kovac has favoured a 4-2-3-1 and I can’t see any real changes to that.

Unless he wants to see the game out quickly, then he has opted for a 4-1-4-1 this season.

But, I suspect he will go for the formation that has served Bayern so well of late.

A possible XI for the fixture is: Neuer; Rafinha, Sule, Hummels, Alaba; Martinez, Thiago; Coman, James, Gnabry; Lewandowski.

 

In terms of Liverpool, who should Jurgen Klopp select in order to get the better of this Bayern team?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 19, 2019: Liverpool's Naby Keita during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Bayern München at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I think we have seen in recent weeks that Liverpool need a creative spark in the midfield area that allows their front three to shine.

However, all they need is one goal and things become very difficult for the hosts.

Klopp might be tempted to play Naby Keita in a stadium, and against a side, he knows well.

Liverpool have the luxury of a number of talented midfielders but I don’t think a defensive approach, as seen in Paris, is for the best.

Bayern will want to score, and that openness will play to Liverpool’s strength.

The back four and front three pick themselves in a game such as this, so the key area will be who starts in the middle and is it a double pivot or a flat three?

 

Where do you see the key battles taking place?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 19, 2019: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' shoots during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Bayern M¸nchen at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Definitely midfield. Both these sides have potent forwards, excellent defences and a world-class goalkeeper. I think this game will be won and lost in the middle of the park.

Thiago and Martinez were excellent at Anfield and Liverpool’s midfield—whoever Klopp picks—will need to have a similar showing in Munich.

Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Gini Wijnaldum, or Fabinho, Keita and Wijnaldum, would be my preferred setup for the Reds.

I think the ability within those combinations could cause the pivot of Bayern a few troubles.

This would allow Liverpool’s front three to really test the centre-back partnership of Bayern—likely Sule and Mats Hummels.

Should Jerome Boateng be parachuted in by Kovac then the speed of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah could be a deciding factor.

 

Who do you think will make it through to the quarter-finals?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 19, 2019: Liverpool's Joel Matip (L) and FC Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Bayern M¸nchen at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Well, I did expect a more open and goal-filled game at Anfield, but the 0-0 has set up a final of sorts.

If Bayern play the way they have done of late then the Reds will be in for a long night, but Liverpool have a much better attack than Bayern have faced of late.

This one could be settled on away goals, but Liverpool will need to be on their game 100 percent to go through at the Bavarians’ expense.

 

And can that team go all the way this season?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, February 19, 2019: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp reacts during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Bayern München at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

I definitely expect the Champions League winners in May to come from this side of the draws.

Man City are red hot, as are both teams in this fixture, but let’s not also forget about the other four teams in action on Tuesday night.

Whoever goes through at the Allianz on Wednesday night has a brilliant chance of winning the trophy in Madrid.

Bayern have been to the semi-final stage twice in recent years and both times fell to Real Madrid. Now Los Blancos are out they will really fancy their chances.

Of course Liverpool have a chance, and they have the propellant of watching the trophy lifted in their presence last year in Kyiv.

It would be a remarkable achievement should they get to the final again and avenge that defeat.

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