Liverpool and Bayern stand firm for first leg draw
European nights at Anfield, they don’t come much bigger than this, especially with German heavyweights, Bayern Munich, in town. In a game that promised goals and end-to-end action, we were given none of the first and little of the latter. Kris Gourlay reports.
Without the colossus that is Virgil Van Djik in defence for the home team, the reds were already at a slight disadvantage for the first leg. Bayern, however, had also been a bit leaky in the goals department as of late with veteran centre half Jerome Boateng struggling to retain match fitness. The general consensus before kick-off at Anfield was that the score could literally be anything.
Most people would be found eating their words at full-time though as a terrific defensive performance from the away team and a nervous approach to attacking from the reds resulted in a rather below-par evening for Jurgen Klopp’s men as the stalemate means Liverpool now travel to the Allianz Arena in three weeks needing to score to progress into the next round.
Liverpool came into the game having just enjoyed a 10-day break in sunny Marbella to prepare for the match, as they were knocked out of the FA cup some time ago.
It seems a long break between matches does Klopp’s team no justice. All of the usual pace, accuracy and full-throttle football that the German has engraved into this Liverpool side goes missing and the complacency begins to appear, tonight was no different.
The first 20 minutes is usually when the reds like to pounce and take advantage of the away side’s lack of confidence at Anfield but the timid atmosphere inside the stadium shortly after kick-off implied the crowd knew this Bayern team weren’t here to be taken apart and for the tie to be over within the first half.
Although a makeshift defensive partnership of Fabinho and Joel Matip signalled panic stations before the game had even started, both seemed to cope well with one of Europe’s finest finishers, Robert Lewandowski.
The pace out wide for Bayern in Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman were fairly mulled, albeit Gnabry giving Andy Robertson the run-around a few times, but neither really showcased their willingness to cut inside and get a shot on target.
With the defence seemingly coping well, the trusty front three of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino just had to their job and make the net bulge at the other end. On this rare Anfield night, they failed to do so.
Jordan Henderson delivered a proper captain’s performance with multiple attack-saving challenges and pin-point passing at times, serving in a midfield three with Naby Keita and Gini Wijnaldum, who both played fairly well in their role of pressing and providing balance in the centre of the park.
Alisson’s nervy touch in the Liverpool goal continued to scare the home fans, as well as very lack-lustre passing from both full-backs in attacking areas.
A low cross almost made for a comedy own-goal by Matip as his clearance was fired goal wards towards Alisson, who was stagnant, knowing absolutely about his goal-saving stop.
Henderson found his range rather quickly and picked out Mo Salah in the box with a defence-splitting pass, only for Salah’s tame effort to be gathered by Manuel Neuer in the Bayern goal.
The reds finally started to come to life as half time loomed, with Sadio Mane and Mo Salah both having efforts at goal. A deflected shot from Naby Keita fell into the path of Sadio Mane with a chance to make it 1-0 but the attacker couldn’t sort his feet out in time and his shot was scuffed wide.
Great control in the box by Roberto Firmino saw his low-driven cross find Joel Matip with a great chance, but Mats Hummels was there to snuff out the danger and deflect the shot wide.
The half time whistle put an end to a half that the home side were beginning to grab by the scruff off the neck, and they never really gathered the same momentum again.
Bayern were perfectly happy to let Liverpool run at them, as Klopp’s men never really looked convincing in the second half. A priceless away goal was now on the minds of the Bayern players as they sensed the reds had given everything they had on the night, as every remaining Liverpool attack stemmed from luck, not belief.
Klopp turned to the bench and threw on James Milner to provide some energy and grit in the remaining minutes, and Divock Origi, because, why not? Neither made much of an impact as the full-time whistle blew and the Anfield crowd gazed onto pitch wondering if the tie was over already.
Liverpool now require a score-draw or a win to progress to the quarter-finals when they visit the Allianz Arena in three weeks time.
Bayern have only lost and failed to score once there all season, so hopefully we will see a more action-packed tie next time out, with Liverpool expecting to have Van Djik back in defence, and Fabinho back in midfield, although he may fancy himself as a centre back after tonight’s performance.
Klopp’s men have to shake themselves off now as a title-deciding trip to Old Trafford beckons on the weekend. Who said trying to win the Champions League and Premier League was easy?