The time is almost upon us. Bayern Munich squaring off against Liverpool in the Champions League round of 16; two fixtures that we’ve all had marked on our calendars ever since the draw was made. Jurgen Klopp’s side are currently jousting with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the English Premier League, trading the top spot on a weekly basis as Liverpool still have a game in hand because of City’s domestic Cup excursions.
Ahead of the first leg, we teamed up with The Liverpool Offside’s Zachary Marx to see how Liverpool fans are feeling ahead of the tie, the first leg of which takes place at Anfield.
- What Liverpool players are in form/out of form?
Your question is straight forward, but the answer is far from it. Simply, the whole team has raised their level this season. Mohamed Salah has more or less continued his rich goal-scoring vein, scoring 20 goals in 34 appearances in all competitions (raising his Liverpool total to 64 goals in 86 appearances).
Sadio Mane has been streaky at times, but has quietly become the Premier League’s 5th highest goalscorer. And while I’m hesitant to point this one out (the last time I praised a midfielder in a Q&A, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain sustained a devastating year-long knee injury 20 minutes into the next game), Georginio Wijnaldum has been phenomenal in the center of the park this season. Not only does the Dutchman do well in linking up midfield with attack, but his energy and reading of the game helps break up or slow down attacks. Gini’s absence was readily apparent in our recent back-to-back draws against Leicester City and West Ham.
As for out of form players, the biggest area of disappointment has been Naby Keita’s relatively slow integration into the squad. He has had some better performances in recent weeks, including a solid performance last time out in the 3-0 win over Bournemouth. Joel Matip has also had an up and down season, though part of that is down to injuries (and the other part down to him being a bit shit at the footy).
- How will Jurgen Klopp line up without Virgil van Dijk?
Ah. Yes. Speaking of Herr Matip. I’m guessing either Matip and Jordan Henderson, or Matip and Fabinho. Liverpool have had a bit of a “Spinal Tap’s Drummer” situation in defense. Joe Gomez is out due to a bizarre gardening accident (or what caveman Sean Dyche called a “fantastic tackle”), and I’m pretty sure Dejan Lovren spontaneously combusted. This is to say that our makeshift back line will be held together by duct tape and willpower, probably more of the former than the latter.
- What’s the preferred midfield combo right now?
Kloppo has been a bit of a mad scientist in the midfield. Honestly your guess is as good as ours. Most fans would probably say the preferred midfield is Fabinho, Henderson, and Wijnaldum, but seeing as one of those will need to fill in at center back, my bet would be to see Henderson at the base, with Gini and James Milner further ahead.
Klopp loves using Milly for big European nights, and he has been rewarded with big performances. Last year Milner set a single-season Champions League record for assists. Not bad for ol’ Boring James Milner.
- What do you guys see as Bayern’s weakness? What’s Liverpool’s Achilles heel at the moment?
I’ve not watched a great deal of Bayern this season, but it seems as if you’re pretty susceptible on the break. Mane, Salah, and Firmino haven’t been nearly as deadly while counterattacking this season as last, but that’s also a result of this side playing more possession-based football and not getting as much space to hit teams on the break. However, I think the potential to hurt Bayern with a quick counter is still very much on the table.
The thing that worries me the most is our aforementioned makeshift back 4, especially with Big Virg serving a Big Suspension.
Speaking of Bayern getting burned on counters:
Bayern's defense looks a little bit sluggish. Mad goal by Schulz tho pic.twitter.com/w6imdHC0YJ— Irvin (@LfcOkk) January 18, 2019
- What do you guys fear most from Bayern?
I’m not sure “fear” is the right word. Because of our current league position, I think many Liverpool fans see this as a bit of a “free hit.” Win or lose, we’ll be happy (so long as we make a good account of ourselves). Win, and things start getting mighty interesting in Europe. Lose, and things will remain mighty interesting in the league, where we remain in the driver’s seat for our first title in nearly three decades. Plus there’s no shame to losing to Bayern, fellow European Royalty.
- Leg 1 score prediction?
Yeah, we have a Virgil van Dijk hole in our defense. But also, it’s Anfield. I know it’s cheesy and opposition fans love to roll their eyes at it, but the place is special on European nights. And we have enough firepower to take the game away from any team in Europe in 20 or 30 minutes, as we did in the first legs against Porto, Manchester City, and Roma last year. And we would have against Real Madrid if Salah (and Karius) didn’t get Ramos’d. All of this is to say 3-1 to the Merseyside Reds, setting up a tremendous second leg in Bavaria.
Danke und viel Glück, Zach und TLO!