With the Champions League Round of 16 draw out of the way we know Liverpool will take on Bayern Munich when the competition gets back under way. It’s a monumental pairing of two five-time winners, a tie to headline any round, and we went to Tom Adams of Bavarian Football Works to find out how he and his fellow Bayern fans felt about it.
The Liverpool Offside: Bayern vs. Liverpool wouldn’t have looked out of place as a quarter or semi-final. That should make for some exciting football, but for one set of supporters it’s going to mean going home sooner than they probably expected. How are Bayern fans feeling about getting what will, for neutrals, probably be the tie of the Round of 16?
Bavarian Football Works: Just as you’ve said, this tie is an absolute treat for neutrals. For me, my heart is torn: I’ve been a Liverpool supporter much of my life and a Bayern fan since my college days, so this is the last possible scenario I wanted this early in the competition—I was dreaming of a Bayern-Liverpool final last year and was left heart-broken by massive mistakes from Ulreich and Karius, respectively.
For most Bayern Munich fans, though, Liverpool are definitely one of the sides we wanted to avoid as they’re in sensational form this season and are the type of team well-suited to the Champions League with their goal-scoring ability. After pundits had been claiming Salah had been off the pace compared to last season, he went and scored a hat-trick against Bournemouth and the all-vital goal against Napoli to send Liverpool through to the next round. Even when your front three aren’t “firing on all cylinders” they’re such a threat.
We would’ve preferred to have drawn probably any of the other possible teams in the draw to give us a better chance of progressing, but now that we’re here, hopefully Niko Kovac will have a precise game plan for how to deal with Liverpool’s electric attack.
One possible advantage for us would be that the SPI ratings could end up favouring Liverpool, so Bayern could come into the tie as the underdog—something which rarely happens for us. Going off of that premise, the tie could end up being Liverpool’s to lose and Bayern would potentially benefit from the psychological approach of having nothing to lose and having a real go at Liverpool.
TLO: It’s getting to the point where it’s hard to imagine Bayern Munich without Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, but the duo are 34 and 35 years old now, respectively. Who are the new generation of Bayern attackers Reds fans should be worried about heading into this?
BFW: The Robbery era is coming to a close at Bayern. Robben has already announced this will be his last season with us and Ribery looks likely to be moving on as well. With that said, Bayern fans are really hoping that players like Kingsley Coman, Serge Gnabry, and Leon Goretzka can start to come to fruition.
Not for nothing, either, but we’ve been getting so many mixed signals with James Rodriguez this season, too. He seems to have fallen out of favour with Kovac and hasn’t played since the beginning of November in a 1-1 draw with Freiburg before sustaining a knee problem. Who knows, though, he could be back fit and firing by the time this tie rolls around, and he’s a player who can show up in big matches.
Having Thiago back from injury has also proven to be a massive boost for us. Bayern have been playing significantly better since both he and Coman returned from injury in our 2-1 win over Werder Bremen in the beginning of December. I personally can’t wait to see what the matchup will be like between Coman and Trent and/or Gomez if he’s fit, and Andy Robertson and Serge Gnabry. Also, you can’t count out Robert Lewandowski even though he’s not a name anyone isn’t used to by now. He’s on a tear this season, having scored 22 goals from as many matches this season and providing 5 assists.
TLO: A lot has been made of Bayern’s relative struggles this season—instead of walking the league they’re nine back of Dortmund. Is that a fair reflection of this squad’s quality and will Liverpool be facing an unusually weak Bayern side, or is something else—injuries or difficulties adapting to a new manager, perhaps—at play that could mean what we get in February looks a lot different to what we’ve seen so far?
BFW: I think with this, as a lot of us in the BFW community have discussed, a big part of it has to do with the rest of the Bundesliga getting better and better. Sure, we’ve had our struggles this season adapting to a new manager and new systems, but it hasn’t helped us that teams like Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach have been playing incredibly well, both of them having beat us already this season. RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt are close behind Bayern in the standings as well.
We’ve also had terrible luck with injuries this season, too, which made life quite difficult for Kovac in his first season in charge. Losing Coman and Corentin Tolisso so early on the season combined with a bevy of players picking up injuries at overlapping times has made it difficult for us to keep momentum going.
Goretzka, Ribery, Robben, James, David Alaba, Jerome Boateng, and Mats Hummels have all had injury problems this season at one point or another. We’ve started to refer to all of our bad injury luck at BFW as the Injury Gods not liking us. With all that said, if we’re able to avoid picking up too many injuries prior to the Liverpool clash, that will only better our chances of giving Liverpool a real test—especially if we’re in a good run of form after our winter break.
TLO: Finally, how do you rate Bayern’s chances of getting past Liverpool in the Round of 16? And, conversely, what—if anything—will it mean for the club’s short-term future if they do get knocked out?
BFW: Assuming we’re injury free and Liverpool are as well come time for the tie, I’d say Bayern realistically have about a 45% chance of progressing past Liverpool. Anfield has been an absolute fortress this season and Liverpool have not lost a European night there in quite some time.
By that token, though, Bayern definitely have the advantage of having the home leg second. If we can keep a tight scoreline at Anfield and perhaps even grab an away goal, we can set ourselves up nicely for the leg at the Allianz Arena. After all, Liverpool have had their struggles on the road in the CL this season—I’m still not quite sure what happened that night at Red Star, to be quite honest.
As far as Bayern implications as the result of this tie, there’s two sides to it. Beating Liverpool would a massive achievement and would get a lot of people fully believing in Kovac and Bayern’s front office, who’ve come under fire this season. On the other side of that, being knocked out of the CL in the round of 16 would be a massive disappointment, but I don’t think any real football fan can doubt Liverpool’s worth right now.
As long as Bayern leave it all out there, losing to Liverpool wouldn’t be the end of the world and we could still be on for a domestic double if we take care of business in the league and Dortmund drop some points.