The news that Bayern Munich will have to face Liverpool in the Champions League Round of 16 has been met with a mixture of panic and euphoria from the Bavarian fanbase. On the one hand, this is the kind of game the UCL was meant for — two of the biggest teams on the continent, both dripping with history, pitted against each other in a clash to decide which one will be represented among the top 8 in Europe? This is not a fairy tale, it’s a Hollywood blockbuster.
On the other hand, this meeting could end very badly for one of the teams involved — and no, I’m not talking about Liverpool FC. Now more than ever, Bayern Munich’s reputation as one of the “big 3” of Europe is under threat. A few months ago, the thought of crashing out of the Champions League in February would have been unthinkable. Now, it’s a very clear reality.
Simply put, this game is likely going to cause severe negative repercussions for the club. In case you’re the kind of person who wants to read about the positives, my collegue Schnitzel01 wrote a list of reasons why facing Liverpool this early could be a good thing for Bayern. Unfortunately, I’m not as optimistic as him, and here’s why:
Bayern Munich match up poorly against Liverpool
Before we can talk about what might happen if we lose, let’s talk about why we might lose. Out of all the teams in Europe right now, Liverpool FC probably match up the best against Bayern. It’s like rock, paper, scissors. We’re scissors, and they’re the rock. Why is that? Well, let’s recap:
#1: Power on the wings:
Liverpool have the best winger duo in Europe. Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah are like the Robbery of yesteryear — and like Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, they’re a nightmare for defenders to deal with. For a long time, Bayern Munich’s weakness has been pace on the flanks. Our fullbacks — Joshua Kimmich moreso than David Alaba — love nothing more than to bomb far up the pitch in search of a goal or assist.
This is great when trying to break down parked buses, but not so great when your opponent has world class wingers that can punish you in the blink of an eye. We saw what Jadon Sancho did to the team in Dortmund a few weeks ago — replace Sancho with Salah, and what happens?
#2: The astute tactics of Jurgen Klopp:
Bayern Munich fans will be familiar with Jurgen Klopp, given how much mutual grief the two have caused each other. Klopp will be looking to finally settle the score with Bayern, now that he has all the tools he needs to make us suffer.
Aside from the power on the wings mentioned above, Liverpool employ a highly aggressive press that is designed to disrupt possession teams like Munich. However, it’s not quite as gung-ho as the Klopp teams of yesteryear, because this current iteration of Liverpool is more than just a glass cannon.
The summer purchases of Fabinho and Naby Keita add much needed steel to Liverpool’s midfield (though Klopp seems to prefer James Milner most of the time) while former Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker provides the kind of resolute goalkeeping performances that a top team needs. Liverpool have conceded only seven goals in 17 games this season. It’s a far cry from last season, where they conceded 38 in 38.
Those thinking that Bayern will be fine against Liverpool because of their leaky defense need to reevaluate their position. This isn’t a typical Klopp team. It’s like the 2012 BVB on steroids.
#3: The incredible support from the Kop:
Outside of the Bundesliga, it’s hard to find home support like there is in the Kop. Anfield is a fortress, and that makes Liverpool incredibly threatening. Of course, there are teams outside Europe’s top five leagues with incredible support in their home stadiums, but none of them present a challenge to Bayern like Liverpool does.
In case you’re not aware, the Kop is like Anfield’s version of the Yellow Wall. It is one of four stands inside the stadium, and by far the most famous. Due to the nature of the stadium, supporters are seated all the way down next to the pitch, meaning that the roar of the crowd is always in the player’s ears.
Although the Allianz Arena seats almost 20,000 more people than Anfield does, when it comes to making noise, those scousers can give the Germans a run for their money. Borussia Dortmund found that out the hard way a couple of years ago, when they conceded four goals in the second half to lose their Europa League fixture 4-3, handing the tie to Liverpool in the process.
The worry is that Bayern, whose away form in Champions League knockouts has been questionable for some time now, might do the same. Of course, we’d still get a chance to fix things in the Allianz Arena, but if it gets ugly then the deficit might be too hard to overcome.
In other seasons, none of those factors would be deal-breakers on their own. However, this time around, there’s a big problem ...
Niko Kovac and his men aren’t prepared to deal with the Reds
If this fixture had taken place last season, or maybe even next season (depending on circumstances), then Bayern Munich could be more confident of taking the tie from the Merseysiders. However, as it stands, we cannot hope to do more than put up a fight. Simply put, this Bayern team is the weakest we’ve had in years.
Bayern currently have a free-flowing offense, but it’s propped up by flimsy foundations. Thomas Muller, who acts as the glue holding the entire attack together, will be suspended for the first leg of the tie. He can be adequately replaced by James Rodriguez, but what Muller does cannot be replicated by James.
James cannot get into the box to draw defenders away from Robert Lewandowski like Muller can. He cannot suddenly appear and find unoccupied pockets of space in the defense. The Colombian is great for control and finding key passes, but there are some things he doesn’t do. James and Muller are fundamentally different players, which is why Jupp Heynckes always played both James and Muller on the pitch in the big games last season.
Squad depth is another worry. Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry are excellent wingers, but injury prone. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery are simply not adequate to be replacements. The squad is dangerously thin at the fullback positions as well — an injury to either Kimmich or Alaba means Rafinha will have to fill in. An injury to both would be catastrophic. The same goes for the midfield — once again, Thiago Alcantara, our best midfielder, is injury prone.
To beat this Liverpool team, Niko Kovac needs everything he can get, and with the loss of Muller he’s starting off with a massive disadvantage at the outset. In addition, this is a Bayern team low on confidence and self-belief. Doubt can act as an anchor on the psyche of players, preventing them from performing at their best. The effect is exemplified by team captain Manuel Neuer, who has looked a shadow of his former self after returning from injury.
It doesn’t stop there. With their history, it’s almost a given that the Bavarians will enter the tie with one or two players injured. And even if the confidence issue fixes itself in the coming months and no one gets injured — it’s still Kovac vs Klopp. The latter is far more experienced than the former, especially on the big stage.
Klopp’s MO is beating big teams, and he’s shown that he can do it time and time again. Kovac, who is already at a disadvantage with his squad, must also deal with own inexperience at this level.
It would have been better if we’d gotten an easier team, like AS Roma or Manchester United, to start us off. Kovac could have used that opportunity to get his feet wet, and increase the team’s confidence at the same time. Instead, he’s been handed a sink-or-swim situation, and it’s like a pair of weights have been attached to his feet.
What do Bayern have to lose?
Quite simply: a lot. Liverpool have the freedom to play in this fixture. People will forgive them for losing to the “mighty” Bayern Munich. They’re the upstarts, the ones challenging the status quo. If they succeed, they get lauded. If they fail, they get brownie points for trying.
For Bayern on the other hand, losing this tie would be a humiliation. We’ve lost Champions League ties before, but those came against the absolute cream of Europe — Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid — and in all but one case the loss came against the eventual champions.
There’s less perceived stigma in losing to them than there is in losing to a team like Liverpool, who until recently weren’t even able to qualify for the Champions League. That’s why Juventus are still considered a big club even though they got knocked out in the round of 16 a few years ago — because they lost to Bayern, and there was no shame in losing to such a team. They were underdogs to begin with.
A loss to Liverpool is the kind of thing that turns the narrative around a club on its head. We lose here, and people (mostly uninformed, but people nonetheless) start asking, “Hey, aren’t Bayern Munich kind of overrated?” The triumph of 2013 was almost six years ago. Its luster is waning. While Barcelona can still point to a recent-ish treble (and playing in La Liga has its own quirks), what will we be left with?
Those who gain great power are always paranoid of losing it. Well, for Bayern, it’s now a lot more than just paranoia. Our 2013 triumph elevated us a step above the rest, into the echelons of the uber-elite. We now stand to lose that status, and it could hurt us greatly. Football is changing. Prestige matters. Perception is everything. This would be a bad time for Bayern to fall behind.
Of course, until the two teams actually line up in February, everything that’s been written above remains the rantings of a highly pessimistic Bayern Munich fan. Winning this game isn’t impossible — in fact, less likely things happen all the time in football. However, this is a truly dangerous moment for the club, and we must be prepared if things don’t go our way.