Liverpool 0-0 Bayern Munich: Match Report

Having successfully gone through a very tough group, Liverpool welcomed German champions Bayern Munich to Anfield for the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 clash on Tuesday, February 19, 2019.

Team News

The biggest piece of team news for this clash, at least for Liverpool, was the unavailability of Virgil van Dijk. The Dutch centre-back was serving a one-match suspension. The magnitude of the problem becomes clearer when the absence of Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren is taken into account. With Joel Matip the only senior centre-back left, Fabinho was forced to step into the back four alongside the Cameroonian. Manager Jurgen Klopp was also sweating over the availability of Roberto Firmino, who picked up a virus and consequently trained alone a day before the game, but the Brazilian eventually made it. Although he has made big steps towards full fitness and has been included in the Champions League squad, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain still remains out.

It’s not as if Niko Kovač in the away dugout didn’t have a few problems of his own. Forward Thomas Muller is suspended for both legs, and he was without the experienced winger Arjen Robben, while Franck Ribery was passed fit. Kinglsey Coman was a doubt, but he recovered in time. Midfielder Corentin Tolisso has suffered an ACL injury and isn’t expected to play again this season, while centre-back Jerome Boateng did not travel to England due to illness.

The First Half

Liverpool pushed hard and got on the front foot from the start, pressing high and controlling things at the back very well. It took the Bavarians six minutes to get an organized attack going, and the Reds defended that without problems. The visitors were trying to play out from the back and Liverpool’s high press made them nervous, especially Neuer who had a few shaky moments early on.

Their focus improved and they grew into the game as time went on, and they even had a half-chance in the 10th minute as a cross by Kimmich caused a moment of miscommunication between Fabinho and Alisson, but the goalkeeper managed to react properly and Henderson cleared the box.

Three minutes later, the captain produced a fantastic long pass for Salah who beat Kimmich and Sule to the ball, but Neuer made a fine save to deny the Egyptian. But then came Bayern’s biggest chance of the half as Gnabry beat Robertson on the flank and sent a sharp cross into the six yards. Matip was extremely lucky that his clumsy clearance (under pressure from Lewandowski) hit Alisson on the chest and bounced away. It was Mane’s turn next as Salah did well to keep the ball and involve Keita in Bayern’s half. The Guineaen extended the pass to Mane on the left and Mane hit one low, just wide of the near post.

Excitement didn’t seem to be going away at that point, and an unwise moment from Alisson prompted another clumsy one from Matip, but Coman failed to capitalize as his shot hit the outside of the net. Lieverpool’s shaky defending continued. It was Robertson next to make a mistake with a poor defensive header, and it was Gnabry next to fail to take advantage.

Bayern’s shape was 4-2-3-1 as expected given the line-up, with Thiago and Martinez sitting deep and James pushing further up behind Lewandowski. Liverpool reverted to 4-3-3, with Henderson anchoring the midfield of Keita and Wijnaldum, Firmino central upfront, Mane left and Salah right.

In the 27th minute, Kimmich stopped Mane with a cynical foul and picked up a booking that will rule him out of the return leg. Neither manager had it all his own way, but Klopp managed to keep cool while Kovač had a few heated arguments with the officials.

In the 30th minute, Henderson and Wijnaldum pulled a fast attack and the Dutchman released Robertson on the left. Several Red shirts were charging in from the other side and Robertson tried to find one of them, but he put too much power into his cross.

A minute later, Mane wasted a great chance. Firmino danced around an opponent towards the box and gave it to Keita whose shot was deflected into the feet of Mane, unmarked and onside but facing away from the goal. He turned on the spot and fired from seven yards, but he scuffed his shot and it went wide.

Minute 36 had just ended when Thiago robbed Trent in the middle of the pitch and involved Gnabry who took a low shot towards the far post, forcing Alisson into a fine save. Then Trent whipped a good diagonal towards Mane and the Senegalese tried a one-two with Firmino but it didn’t get through. Firmino won it back and involved Keita whose shot was once more deflected towards Mane facing away from the goal, and Mane this time went for a spectacular overhead and missed the target again.

Then Salah’s neet flick took Kimmich out of the game and engaged Firmino on the left who pulled it back for the incoming Matip, but the centre-back hit it wide of the near post from close range.

Bayern hit back in the 42nd minute as Gnabry charged down the right and whipped it into the box, but Matip reacted well under pressure this time and cleared the box. Less than 60 seconds later, Henderson did extremely well to correct Mane’s mistake and stop Gnabry.

Then it was Liverpool’s turn again, and Wijnaldum and Salah worked well to send Firmino through on the right, Neuer was caught in no-man’s land as the Brazilian’s cross went over his head towards Mane on the far post, but the cross was slightly overhit.

In the dying seconds of the half, Trent whipped in a good cross towards Firmino and Mane, but neither manager to get on the end of it. Despite the lack of goals, it was a fantastic 45 (+1) minutes of football.

The Second Half

Nothing changed after the break. Attacking towards the Kop now, Liverpool were just as relentless in their pressing as before, and Bayern mostly kept cool and patient.

A series of sloppy passing from both sides eventually got Coman in a lot of space and the winger employed Lewandowski inside the box. The Pole tried a cheeky trick to fool Fabinho on the edge of six yards but the Brazilian makeshift centre-back stood his ground.

Liverpool threatened even more a minute later as Keita pulled a counterattack and involved Robertson on the left at a second attempt. Sule slid infront of Robertson and bounced the ball off the Scot, and it went over Neuer towards Salah on the far post, but the Egyptian miscontrolled it.

As Bayern charged forward, Henderson stopped Martinez with a foul from behind and got himself booked by referee Gianluca Rocchi from Italy.

Kovač had an injury scare in the 58th minute as Martinez landed awkwardly following a Bayern corner and appeared to have hurt his back, but he shook it off.

A minute later, Liverpool took a poor throw-in in their own half and Bayern stole the ball before Gnabry let one fly from 30 yards, just missing the near top corner. Trent threatened soon at the other end as he won the ball high up and charged into the box, beat both Martinez with pace and Coman with skill, but Hummels read his mind well and thwarted his pass towards Salah.

As the game progressed, Liverpool were slowly turning the screw and pushing the Bavarians deeper. It was very encouraging and very important to see Matip improve his concentration significantly. His sharp, proactive defending in the second half often thwarted Lewandowski from holding the ball and getting his teammates further up, and Fabinho wasn’t far behind.

But looking at a bigger picture, the pace of the game was gradually slowing down.

With 73 minutes gone, Salah gave quite a lot of trouble to Alaba on the right and cut into the box, but a misunderstanding between him and Wijnaldum enabled Hummels to react and clear the danger.

Two minutes later, it was time for Klopp to freshen up his midfield and James Milner came on for Keita, while Firmino made way for Divock Origi.

Liverpool v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: First Leg : News Photo
Subsitute Divock Origi of Liverpool replaces Roberto Firmino during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 First Leg match between Liverpool and FC Bayern München at Anfield on February 19, 2019 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

In the 80th minute, Milner dispossessed Thiago near the middle and gave it to Mane who deployed Robertson charging into the box down the left, but Kimmich managed to block Robertson’s sharp cross. Then Franck Ribery stepped on for Bayern and replaced Coman.

Liverpool increased the pressure, took a couple of corners, whipped in a few crosses and took a few shots, but the Bavarians defended lively. The introduction of Milner allowed Robertson to get forward more and in the 86th minute he delivered a sharp low cross that Mane skillfully headed straight into the near bottom corner, but Neuer made a great save. The ensuing corner saw Matip head over the bar.

With three minutes to go, Kovač replaced James with Renato Sanchez. The visitors were now playing for time on any given opportunity, and Martinez and Sule got booed from the stands of Anfield before Gnabry made way for Rafinha.

Bayern controlled the four minutes of stoppage time well by cleverly keeping the ball and continuing to waste time, and in the end, it’s fair to say that they got what they wanted.

The Afterthought

It was an exciting game for the most part, but Bayern gradually succeeded in taking the sting out of it and bringing it down to earth.

It’s anyone’s guess what happens at the Allianz Arena in Munich on March 13th. The Bavarians have improved their domestic form after starting the season in an underwhelming fashion, but Liverpool are certainly capable of going over there and beating them. The presence of Virgil van Dijk will not only be a massive defensive boost, but it’ll also release Fabinho for a midfield role. On the other hand, Boateng will likely be back in contention, but Muller still won’t, and neither will Kimmich.

Despite the forced changes, Liverpool fairly held their own. Matip and Fabinho started a bit shakily but improved as the game progressed, and the same could be said of Robertson. Trent was very solid throughout. Henderson was immense in midfield, likely the man of the match. The captain was everywhere all the time, making clever interceptions, covering for defenders and instigating swift attacks with incisive passing.

Up front, the fab three were very good in the first half, but the industry of Firmino was dropping during the second half, which is quite understandable given his late clearance to play. Salah was very industrious and tricky to deal with, but Mane really should have scored after the half-hour mark.

As for the visitors, Gnabry was probably their best player on the evening. He was electric on the right wing and Robertson rarely faced an opponent this fierce and skillful. Their attacking plans obviously didn’t work as their best chances mostly came from Liverpool’s mistakes in the first half, but they defended responsibly and got the result they’re probably happy with.

Next up – Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.

We Walk On.

Veselin Trajkovic

A sports enthusiast, Liverpool FC fan, writing for several blogs, likes to focus on football for what it is, rather than stats or bias. Writing for FOAR since its inception.

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