After the wind, comes the snow – Liverpool face new test in Munich
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool face one of their biggest challenges this season so far as they take on the snow and an in-form Bayern Munich team in the second leg of their last 16 tie in the Champions League on Wednesday night. Kris Gourlay previews.
Klopp’s men go into the game having come through a difficult game versus Burnley at Anfield on Sunday, securing a vital 4-2 victory, although the Liverpool manager will probably just be happy that his team out-prevailed the wind that is out to ruin his title credentials yet again.
The last few weeks have seen both sides of an unusual Liverpool team this season, with impressive victories over Bournemouth and Watford, who they put 5 past, but also performances such as the two consecutive stalemates in the league against Manchester United and Everton, leaving a lot to be desired.
To the untrained eye, two draws against one of the greatest teams in the world and Everton, their city rivals, would suffice. However, anyone who watched those two games would know the struggle of watching without turning off the TV. Two great opportunities to grab 3 points turned into a game of ‘let’s see who can play the worst’. Even against United, who lost 3 of their most important players before half-time, the willingness to go on and take the challenge to Man City did not appeal to the Liverpool players.
Nevertheless, in Munich on Wednesday, Liverpool have the chance to make the Quarter-finals of the competition for two consecutive years, which is certainly the progress fans expect from manager Jurgen Klopp.
After a drab but not too damaging goalless draw in the first leg 3 weeks ago, Liverpool will be spurred on by the fact that if they score first in Germany, Bayern need two. They also have their player of the year so far, Virgil Van Djik, back from suspension to sharpen up the defence after Fabinho and Joel Matip’s new-found partnership was composed enough to stunt Robert Lewandowski’s magical touch at Anfield.
Klopp will find himself with the common problem of this season, picking a well-balanced midfield, to earn victory over Bayern as he has Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, Naby Keita, Fabinho and James Milner to choose from, a problem that may be eased by the fact that Milner and Wijnaldum have been struggling for fitness recently so we could see a midfield 3 of Keita, Fabinho and Henderson.
In big games such as this, Klopp has often gone for an experienced 3 of Milner, Henderson and Wijnaldum, but considering fitness issues surrounding the midfield and Fabinho’s excellent record of never losing a match for Liverpool whilst starting, to leave him out would be a massive call.
Adam Lallana also made a surprise start in midfield against Burnley where his impressive work rate and composure on the ball rose as another option for Klopp, although a place in the starting 11 on Wednesday will probably be out of the question for the Englishman, who is still working towards full fitness.
Bayern, who showed signs of being dethroned by rivals Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga early on in the season, have made a miraculous recovery of late to even the points total at the top of the table and are bang in-form for the showdown with an impressive 6-0 thrashing of Wolfsburg on Saturday.
They do, however, have a small injury crisis of their own at the moment as veteran winger Arjen Robben is still struggling with various fitness issues, as well as midfielder Corentin Tolisso missing out due to a knee injury.
They will also be without Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller through suspension, a stroke of luck for the reds as Kimmich is one of the best full-backs in the world currently, and showed signs of that in the first leg, Brazil’s Rafinha is poised to take his place at right-back.
Frenchman Kingsley Coman could also miss the game for Bayern after struggling to shake-off a persistent issue, meaning Franck Ribery could start instead, not exactly the downgrade Liverpool had hoped for.
Both teams have been far from their best this season, but somehow are fixed near the summit of their respected league table, with Bayern winning 12 of their last 13 Bundesliga games, having only been beaten at home once this season.
Liverpool will be eager to shrug off all the talk surrounding nerves as they head towards the nail-biting end of the Premier League season, so a strong performance can be expected, nothing else will get the job done.
It could be the game of the season for Liverpool and it could be the one that kick-starts their journey towards European and domestic success, who better to do it against than Klopp’s oldest rivals.