It is not often a team of Bayern Munich’s caliber is considered the underdog in a Champions League round of sixteen. After a mixed season, While Bayern has found it hard to find their stride under head coach Niko Kovac both domestically and in Europe, Liverpool has had a great season, chasing what could be a historical first Premier League title.
Kovac’s men will face their biggest test yet on Tuesday. They enter the game as Bundesliga’s last hope of having a team reach the quarter-finals after Dortmund’s collapse at Wembley. The two games against Klopp’s fast-paced Liverpool may decide the legacy of this season. I will evaluate three key aspects that need to be working in order for Bayern Munich to beat Liverpool.
1. Defensively consistent through 180 minutes
The most obvious and most important challenge that Bayern team has to meet is being consistent for 180 minutes. It is an obvious point. Consistency is vital to achieving success in anything related to football. It is the most important for Bayern, which has experienced its most inconsistent season since 2010/11.
Arguably, the reason why this year’s team has been so inefficient is because of the defense. Losing leads to Augsburg, Freiburg, and Dusseldorf at home epitomizes Bayern’s struggle to achieve a full, satisfactory ninety minutes. Bayern has already let in 26 goals in the league this season after 22 games played. In comparison, after 34 games in the three previous seasons, Bayern had let in 26, 22, and 17 goals. Losing points after letting in three goals to Dusseldorf at home is one reason why Bayern find themselves chasing the league leaders instead of being chased.
In order to have a real chance against Liverpool, Bayern’s back line must be at their best for 180 minutes. Bayern will not keep two clean sheets against Liverpool. However, there’s no room for individual errors against a team that has a trio that has this season scored 44 goals combined, and a team that has the ability to take the game away from any team in 20 or 30 minutes.
2. Take advantage of Liverpool’s Achilles heel
Liverpool raised their level in most parts of their game this season, including an improvement in their weakest part of their game last year, their defense. In the 26 games in the league this season, Liverpool has had 14 clean sheets while only conceding 15 goals. The argument that Liverpool’s Achilles heel is their defense has therefore weakened significantly this season.
It is therefore crucial that Bayern take advantage of the Virgil van Dijk’s suspension and the current injuries of other Liverpool defenders. Since Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and potentially Dejan Lovren will out for the first leg, Liverpool’s back-line in the first game will consist of only one natural center-back, the Ruhr-native Joël Matip.
Taking advantage of this means bringing out the most of our star player, Robert Lewandowski. Lewandowski’s form is vital for Bayern’s success in the Champions League, regardless of the opposition. His ability to change games with his nose for goal is unmatched in the Bayern team.
If Lewandowski is not in form, Bayern will struggle. Arguably, last year’s loss to Real Madrid could be explained by Lewandowski’s poor form in front of goal, and the effectiveness of Real defense’s in neutralizing him.
3. Neutralize Klopp’s pressing game
Liverpool’s pressing style works best when Liverpool force teams to make mistakes in their own half. As mentioned above, Bayern’s defense has been prone to making bad passes and self-made errors this season.
In order to beat Liverpool, the team has to be able to move the ball from the defense. Paris was able to win against Liverpool in their crucial victory at Parc des Princes by using Marquinhos and Veratti as central midfielders. While in possession, Marquinhos dropped back as a third center-back, providing cover for the other two center-backs on the ball while the more creative Veratti was able to move the ball behind the first wave of pressure.
This video explains Tuchel’s successful tactics perfectly:
How can Bayern replicate the feat? It is clear that Kovac has a specific plan for Liverpool’s ‘gegenpress’. Bayern can use either Javi Martinez or Joshua Kimmich as the more defensive part of the central midfielders and let Thiago or Goretzka move the ball higher up the pitch. Regardless of how Kovac will set up the team in the midfield, it is important to be able to play out of the initial press from Salah, Mane, and Firmino.
To eliminate last year’s finalists is a hard task, but Bayern has every chance to do it if these three aspects go their way. MIA SAN MIA!