Conservatism isn’t something you’d ever associate with a manager like Jurgen Klopp, but the German mastermind has been utilizing slightly less gung-ho tactics with his Liverpool side in recent weeks. When Liverpool had three 0-0 draws against Bayern Munich, Manchester United, and Everton within the span of just two weeks, question marks began to surround Klopp’s side. Goals weren’t coming, they weren’t as electric going forward, and Klopp seemed to be a bit more worried with not conceding rather than really going for it in attack like he usually likes to do.
Despite Liverpool looking more like themselves in their 4-2 win over Burnley, their stretch of draws and goalless matches can provide Niko Kovac with a basic blueprint to get the job done in the Champions League. Bayern already showed they have the defensive capabilities to thwart Liverpool’s dangerous attack
Forcing the issue - the front three
One of the glaring issues with Liverpool’s attack is their disproportionate distribution of goals throughout the squad. Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah have accounted for 44 of Liverpool’s 68 Premier League goals. Only 12 other goals have come from Liverpool’s midfield - six from Xherdan Shaqiri, three from James Milner, two from Georginio Wijnaldum, and one from Fabinho.
The problem for Liverpool there is that those four midfielders hardly ever start together as Klopp as shown a preference to a midfield three of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, and Wijnaldum, who obviously only have three goals between them. This will more than likely be Klopp’s starting midfield preference for leg two against Bayern, as he prefers the conservative cover those three provide him ahead of his back line.
With so much reliance on their front three for goals, Liverpool is guilty of sometimes trying to force the issue, which, in a sense, makes them easier to contain. You know who they’re looking for every time they go forward, and if there’s nothing doing for the front three, they start to force passes and create situations to try and get Salah, Mane, and Firmino involved. This was on display against both Manchester United and Everton, especially with Salah, who has now gone five matches without a goal. The more he was getting suffocated, the more he tried to do a bit too much on his own, conceding possession cheaply and/or trying to take a shot from a difficult angle when a pass would’ve been the better option.
If Bayern frustrates Liverpool enough to get them to start forcing the issue with the front three, the better the chances will be for the Bavarians. Kovac will certainly have addressed this in the sessions leading up to leg two
Attacking the flanks
Like David Alaba and Joshua Kimmich, Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold love to bomb forward and join in on Liverpool’s attack. The pair of wing backs do spend a lot of time in the opposition’s half and it leaves plenty of space in behind, which is an area Bayern can attack. Assuming Kovac starts with Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman (if he’s fit), the pair of wingers have the pace to get in behind when Liverpool is in retreat. If Franck Ribery starts instead of Coman, there might not be as much pace there, but that could be a good thing for Bayern, because Robertson and/or Alexander-Arnold might feel more comfortable roaming further forward. Alexander-Arnold has also been recovering from an injury, so he’s still not 100% even though he’s started the last three matches for Liverpool.
Bayern has had success attacking the flanks in the recent league wins over Wolfsburg and Borussia Monchengladbach. In those two matches, Bayern outscored their opponents 11-1 en route to collecting six crucial points. Their first goal against Wolfsburg came as a direct result of some decent play by Kimmich running down the right channel and playing a clever through ball for Thomas Muller, who found Gnabry in the box.
Bayern strike first!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) March 9, 2019
Gnabry scores his 7th goal of the season and puts the home side on pic.twitter.com/mVWMnAsAhf
Although Muller and Kimmich aren’t available against Liverpool, just switch the names to Coman and Rafinha and the same blueprint is there for the taking. When Bayern wins the ball in its own half with Liverpool’s wing backs committed forward, it can expose the open spaces:
Klopp’s stubborn, conservative substitutions
Klopp has been making some questionable substitutions, especially in the matches where Liverpool was level pegging at 0-0. Bringing on James Milner in a like-for-like sub for Wijnaldum when it’s 0-0 at Goodison Park isn’t anyone’s idea of “going for it.” Neither is taking off Henderson against Manchester United at Old Trafford when he was one of the more productive players on the pitch. When you’ve got creative players like Shaqiri and Naby Keita on the bench, Liverpool fans have been questioning why Klopp has kept them holstered and instead brought on Divock Origi or Daniel Sturridge.
The longer it stays 0-0 at the Allianz Arena, the more likely both teams will have to start rolling the dice. If it is a scoreless game and Klopp chooses to alter his front three, Kovac can use that to implore his players to really start going for it and pressing forward. Liverpool just is not the same attacking force when one of front three isn’t out there.
Bayern can use that to their advantage if and when that occurs.