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Why Liverpool should be Bayern Munich’s next opponent in the Champions League

This would be a rematch from the 2018/19 season, but would look far different now.

FC Bayern Muenchen v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Round of 16: Second Leg Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Liverpool bested Bayern Munich in the 2018/19 Champions League round of 16 by a total aggregate score of 3-1 over two legs, paving the way to winning their 6th European Cup in Madrid against Tottenham Hotspur. For both clubs, a lot has changed since then and there is a very real possibility that the two sides will draw each other to square off once again in the knockout stages round of 16 as Bayern Munich won their group and Liverpool finished second behind SSC Napoli in their respective group.

Bayern is still second in the Bundesliga behind a surprise package of the season in Union Berlin while Liverpool has had tumultuous struggles in the Premier League, having lost back to back matches to sides in the relegation zone a la Nottingham Forest and Leeds United. Jurgen Klopp’s side currently sit in 9th place with a total of 16 points from 12 matches played, which is only five points above the relegation zone. Klopp doesn’t believe in the 7th-season curse that’s plagued his managerial career, but it certainly looks like it’s coming to fruition once again a summer after signing Darwin Nunez from SL Benfica to help compensate for the departure of Sadio Mane to Bayern.

If the two sides do wind up drawing each other in the round of 16 in the Champions League, there’s a lot that could be working in Bayern’s favor this time around.

Severely contrasting form, momentum

Let’s face it, Liverpool have been fine in Europe apart from their 4-1 loss to Napoli, but have looked a trainwreck in the league. The knockout stages don’t start until after the World Cup, but if we’re strictly looking at building momentum, Julian Nagelsmann’s side have a lot more of it than Liverpool. From that standpoint, Bayern would be the odds-on favorites to progress to the quarter-finals, but there’s so much more to it than just form and momentum.

The open, attacking nature in the Champions League

The Champions League certainly suits teams that like to play open, attacking football. The competition rarely rewards defensive, pragmatic setups that also aren’t balanced with blistering counter attacks. So much of Liverpool’s success in the Champions League this season and in season’s past has come down to the way the play so much better against open teams. Mohamed Salah, Luis Diaz, Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino, Darwin Nunez and company have so much more room to operate with more open spaces, and aside from a handful of set piece goals in Europe this season, that’s how they wind up scoring most of their goals.

You need goals to progress in the Champions League, and Liverpool is so well setup to punish sides that open themselves up, but they struggle against teams that sit in deep against them, as we’ve seen with Fulham, Forest, Leeds, Brighton, Everton, Crystal Palace and Manchester United. From all of those matches, they scored a total of 8 goals, but conceded, 10, yielding a net of -2, which adds up to far too many dropped points. While they’ve shown they can score most of their goals from open play when teams become more opened up, they leave so much space in behind with what looks to be a weakened defense, just behind an ageing midfield that looks a shade of what they have been in previous seasons.

If Nagelsmann can balance a pragmatic, defensively stable approach, the tie could easily be Bayern’s for the taking, especially considering the defensive improvements’ we’ve shown this season with Dayot Upamecano and Matthijs de Ligt commanding the center backs role. Unless something happens to him between now and the beginning of next year, too, we’ll have Lucas Hernandez back in the fold by then.

When Liverpool become more stretched, Bayern has more than enough firepower the break them down and they can also do the same even if Klopp take a more pragmatic approach, which would be rather uncharacteristic of him. Mane, Leroy Sane, and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting have accounted for 10 of Bayern’s 18 UCL goals so far, and there’s also so many more potential threats with Serge Gnabry, Jamal Musiala, Kingsley Coman, and Thomas Muller. As former RB Leipzig manager Domenico Tedesco earlier described Bayern’s attack, it’s like having arrows fired at you from so many different directions at once.

Bayern Munich - Viktoria Pilsen Photo by Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images

Liverpool’s fragile defense

Defensively, Liverpool are miles off their best. They’ve conceded 16 goals in the Premier League and, somehow, only 5 in the Champions League, but they are conceding far too many chances, making it no surprise that Alisson Becker has been one of their best, most consistent performers of the season thus far. Klopp has had unfortunate injury blows at varying times in the season to Ibrahima Konate, Joel Matip, Andy Robertson, and Trent Alexander-Arnold, which has resulted in him his a handful of different back four lineups, often times having to use James Milner in defense. To contrast, by this stage last season, they had only given up 12 goals in the league, but had only lost once, which was a 3-2 loss at West Ham. That number was 13 after 14 matches in the 2019/20 season when they won the league, which is still less than they’ve conceded at this point. The only season that was worse by this point was the 2020/21 lockdown season (20), but Liverpool turned a sharp corner towards the end of the season to finish in a Champions League spot.

Their midfield hasn’t been any different injury-wise, either, and they routinely get outrun in their Premier League matches. On a RedmenTV post-match YouTube video, one of the comments read, “our midfield is just a pile of dodgy ligaments,” and that’s shockingly accurate. Jordan Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago Alcantara, Harvey Elliot, Curtis Jones, Naby Keita, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all had injury problems this season and Klopp’s midfield seems to not be able to provide the necessary protection for what’s looked a fragile defense. Bayern can, and would, expose this in a potential matchup, because they’ve shown both in the league and in Europe that they can rip apart teams that both sit deep, or come at them out of the gates.

Liverpool FC v Leeds United - Premier League Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

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