Bayern Munich and Liverpool were “lucky” enough to draw each other for the glamor tie of the Champions League Round of 16. The two 5-time European Champions would not have been out of place meeting up in the more silveryware-y part of the competition, but here we are.
Anyway, Thomas Adams from fellow SBN site Bavarian Football works decided to stop by. Yes, we promised him a maß of beer. Unfortunately, we only had cans of Carlsberg. Unlucky.
The Liverpool Offside: It’s hard to escape the de facto Klopp-Bayern rivalry when discussing this match. The charismatic manager was the last to dethrone Bayern from their spot atop German football. How is Klopp’s tenure at Liverpool viewed by Bayern fans, and is there extra motivation to put the former Dortmund boss “in his place?”
Bavarian Football Works: I think that there’s no disguising the fact that Klopp has such a massive pedigree in Germany for everything he did with both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. He was the last manager to dethrone Bayern from their perennial title winning successes, but I think the majority of Bayern fans have nothing but respect for him. The Premier League is a completely different beast than the Bundesliga, but I do think Klopp is unlucky not to have won any silverware with Liverpool at this point. He was brought in for the long haul, but getting to two cup finals within his first two seasons with the squad he had at his disposal was quite impressive. By that same token, he’s a manager who has plenty of respect for Bayern and knows what we’re capable of, especially with players in our squad that have played under him like Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski during their Dortmund days. I think the added motivation for us will be just to get a result against Liverpool, a team that have been SO impressive this season and who showed the world last year that they have what it takes to do some damage in the Champions League - can we just all agree that we DO NOT want Real Madrid in another final!
TLO: /Spits on floor when hearing “Real Madrid.”
Sorry, about that. We’re still a little sore. Please don’t mention a certain Spanish scumbag center back unless you want to see us start breaking things. Moving on, both sides will struggle with suspensions and injuries. How will Bayern deal with their absences?
BFW: UGH, with the amount of injuries Bayern seem to experience on what feels like a way to consistent basis, we always like to blame “the injury gods” at Bavarian Football Works, also known as Die Verletzungsgötter. In addition to Kingsley Coman’s involvment in leg 1 being in question, we’ve just learned that Jerome Boateng is also likely to miss out due to some sort of virus. Not to mention Thomas Muller won’t be available at all for his red card suspension for his karate kid impersonation against Ajax. Niko Kovac has been very precise in his training sessions, though, and he’s been preparing for Liverpool for quite some time now. The possibility of absentees within his preferred starting eleven is something he’ll have practiced and made plans for well in advance, so I really think it’s just up to the players to execute the game plan he puts forward. Hummels and Niklas Sule have been the preferred pairing at center back, so no Boateng isn’t the end of the world, and despite injuries to Coman, Corentin Tolisso, and not having Muller, there’s plenty of options in midfield with Thiago, Leon Goretzka, Javi Martinez, Renato Sanches, James Rodriguez, Franck Ribery, and Serge Gnabry. The dual pivot of Goretzka and Thiago has worked quite well at times this seson in the center of midfield, so I wouldn’t be too surprised to see that right from the off. What we’re really looking forward to and hoping for is that Lewandowski can take advantage of what will likely be a makeshift center back pairing for you guys with no VVD and potentially no Lovren.
TLO: Hmm, it feels like football injury gods should be known by a German name. I’ll allow it.
I see you over there salivating over Lewa running at our makeshift back line. What’s the best way to slow down your attack, short of Alisson having a worldie, or playing VVD in disguise?
BFW: Now I know this isn’t the way Liverpool like to play, ideally, but teams have given us trouble when they bunker down defensively and wait for their moments to break forward. Obviosuly, parking the bus is about as anti-Klopp as anti-Klopp gets, but there could be a lot of cancelling out going on here. Both sides are good with the ball, both sides can be deadly on the counter attack, and both sides will have so much respect for the other. With that said, I think the more pressure you put on Bayern when we’re in possession, the more you’ll have a potential to pounce on a mistake in a dangerous position. The less Bayern have of the ball, the more frazzled they can get. Not having the lion’s share of possession is something that Bayern are not used to and keeping Lewandowski isolated up top is something that Klopp will surely emphasize. Also, what a lot of Bayern fans are nervous about; Kimmich and Alaba both have a tendency to get caught out way to high up the pitch and with Mane and Salah waiting at the other end, that could be fatal for us, so our wide backs really need to be cognizant of their positioning the ENTIRE match. The more I think about this question, the more I realize that this really will be two sides with similar playing styles canceling each other out at times. Could we have a 0-0 on our hands? Please, no!
TLO: Considering the state of our defenses, that shouldn’t be an issue! But let’s move on from defense to attack: what’s the best way for Salah et. al to get joy against Bayern’s back line?
BFW: I kind of answered that at the end of question five, my apologies. But, to continue on that, catching Bayern out with numbers committed forward is exactly what Liverpool want to do. It’s happened to us far too often against so called “lesser” teams in the Bundesliga, so when a team like Liverpool springs a counter on us, Salah is quite honestly the last person you’d want running at your back line that’s already on their heels back-tracking. Additionally, I’m not sure how Klopp will want his front three to press when Bayern are in possession deep inside their own half, but Salah could be the man “runnin’ down the wing” if/when Liverpool win possession in Bayern’s half. Like I said, I’m not sure if Klopp will want to implement the high press, but if he does, Bayern could be making a lot of errors in bad areas of the pitch.
TLO: It appears Bayern are entering the “end of an era” with both Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben rumored to be moving on, and both players have had limited minutes this season. Are their replacements (insofar as such players exist) already at the club, or will Bayern look for other long-term solutions over the summer?
BFW: With “Robbery” starting to end the last stages of their career, it’s obvious that there’s big spaces to fill for Bayern. Coman and Gnabry have both shown that they have the potential to grow into world class players, but that’s going to take some time and they both have elements of their game that need to be improved. Muller also isn’t getting any younger and James Rodriguez’s future with Bayern seems to almost always be in question at this point, so it’s hard to see Bayern not investing in natural wingers during the upcoming transfer window. Club President Uli Hoeness and club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have already promised a big summer in the transfer window, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we invest in at least a winger or two.
TLO: Not to pour salt on the wound, but Bayern are struggling in the league (at least by their lofty standards). How has this impacted their approach to the Champions League so far (if at all), and do you think it will change the way this fixture is viewed?
BFW: Honestly, I think for the fans, it’s just been a blunt reality check that we need to be pushing on all fronts at 110%. Dortmund have a strong squad this season and have been tearing it up in the Bundesliga, but Tottenham put a massive dent in their Champions League hopes moving forward. As they’re on the brink of crashing out of the CL and since they’ve already been knocked out of the DFB-Pokal (German Cup), they absolutely HAVE to put all of their eggs in the Bundesliga basket - that’s going to put added pressure on Bayern to keep pace with them domestically since we’re still pushing on all three fronts and have a favorable draw against a non-league side in the next round of the Pokal. But, that’s the expectation at Bayern, going for all three trophies; anything less is considered sub-standard. We’ve had shaky patches, we’ve shown some terrible lapses in concentration, but the fact of the matter is, we’re still in the running for three different trophies and are now only (provisionally) two points behind Dortmund in the table. This is football, anything can happen!
TLO: Before you go, I have to mention that I lived one stop away from Allianz Arena when I lived in Munich. Plus I worked for a local kindergarten. There aren’t words to describe the horror of just wanting peace and quiet after dealing with screaming kids all day, only to come to Marienplatz to take the u-bahn home and see red and white clad chanting lunatics filling the platform. And then having to fight my way through them to get off the train, many asking where I’m going because the footy is still one stop away. I don’t really have a question attached to that rant, so I guess...score prediction?
BFW: It’s some kind of fate that you and I did this segment with one another because I’ve been a Liverpool fan since I was about 12 and completely became obsessed with them after I saw them play Celtic in the states in 2004 during their North American tour. Obviously there were some great successes just after that in 2005 (CL) and then 2006 (FA Cup) and my fandom just took off. I remember trying to re-create that Stevie G goal against Trinidad & Tobago from the 2006 World Cup at soccer practice in middle school over and over! I’ve also been a Bayern fan since I was about 20-21 years old (im now 28), so this tie, like it does for you, holds a big place in my heart. One of my teams, unfortunately, won’t progress, but that’s football for ya!. With that said, I really do think Liverpool will get a Salah-Napoli esque 1-0 win with a few brilliant saves from Alisson at Anfield and then I think 1-0 to Bayern with Lewy scoring at the Allianz Arena forcing extra time.....and I’ll never try to predict a p.k. shootout!
Thanks again, Zach!
TLO: And thanks to you, Tom. Good luck, you know, other than when you’re playing us! And also, maybe next time bring some of that delicious Bavarian beer (Augustiner or Tegernseer, bitte!)
Liverpool will host Bayern tomorrow night at Anfield. You can see the “reverse fixture” Q&A on Bavarian Football Works here.