Liverpool vs Bayern Munich: Talking points as midfield control is crucial in Champions League clash

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Georginio Wijnaldum

A heavyweight Champions League last-16 clash pits Liverpool against Bayern Munich with Anfield staging the first leg on Tuesday night.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp faces a familiar nemesis from his Borussia Dortmund days and the German will be hoping to improve upon a pretty mixed record against the Bavarian giants.

Indeed, Klopp has lost 16 of his 29 encounters with Bayern and with Niko Kovac under pressure to deliver in Europe having fallen away domestically, they will prove formidable adversaries once more.

Both teams have massive pedigree in this competition with five European Cup titles each. It promises to be a fascinating battle and we examine the key talking points ahead of the game.

MIDFIELD AT THE FOREFRONT

Georginio Wijnaldum scores Liverpool's second against Bournemouth

Georginio Wijnaldum scores Liverpool’s second against Bournemouth

Naturally there’s a lot of talk centred around attack versus defence as Liverpool are without colossal centre-back Virgil van Dijk through suspension, an injured Joe Gomez and a doubtful Dejan Lovren.

Robert Lewandowski remains one of the most elite No9s in the world and the Pole, who has already plundered eight times in the Champions League this season, will surely be licking his lips at the prospect of bloating his goals tally.

However, midfield control takes precedence because both these sides are so reliant on the performances of their middle men.

With Fabinho likely pinned in defence alongside Joel Matip, Liverpool’s midfield will lose one of their standout ball players. The Brazilian is Klopp’s most assured passer and his distribution out of defence into the flying full-backs is a key feature of their play.

Jordan Henderson is brilliant at breaking up transitions, but he doesn’t provide the same ingenuity from No6. That means Georginio Wijnaldum and Naby Keita will be so important to Liverpool on Tuesday.

The Dutchman’s return at Bournemouth from a knee injury was timely and Klopp intriguingly used him much higher up the pitch, reminiscent to his time at Newcastle. The 28-year-old will be tasked with affecting play in the Bayern box and his performance last time out suggests he’ll be up to it.

He scored with an exquisite lob, made three key passes and achieved a pass success rate of 90 per cent.

Meanwhile, Keita’s energy to cover the grass near both boxes is sure to be fundamental in releasing Wijnaldum and giving him the licence to attack.

They will have their work cut out for them because one visiting player comes raiding into this fixture in supremely good form…

GORETZKA’S STEPPING UP

Don’t let the English takeover of young talents thriving in the Bundesliga fool you, German football possesses their own diamonds.

Leon Goretzka represents the present and future of both Bayern and the national team with his sparkling displays of late showing he’s ready to step up and into the elite bracket.

The 24-year-old has been pegged as a natural heir to Toni Kroos and in the early part of his career, he’s suffered a similar development issue to the Real Madrid star. Indeed, Goretzka is the archetypal complete midfielder and it’s been difficult to pin down his best position. His hulking frame and tight technique means he can mesh together the six, eight and No10 roles.

But after struggling in the first half of the season, Goretzka is finally justifying why the hype which surrounded his free transfer from Schalke last summer.

Kovac has pushed him into the No10 slot, preferring his athleticism to the luxury of James Rodriguez.

It’s paying dividends as well because since returning from the winter break, Goretzka has been positively scorching, netting four times and laying on one assist in his last five Bundesliga outings.

Admittedly, he did score an unfortunate own goal 15 seconds into the weekend win over Augsburg having just received the league’s player of the month award for January.

But he’s been otherwise phenomenal in 2019 and will have a vital role to play at Anfield.

BAY AND SWITCH

Jurgen Klopp

Jurgen Klopp

When the draw was announced Klopp was happy to be pitted against Bayern.

In fact, there was only two teams he wanted to avoid, former club Borussia Dortmund, for obvious reasons, and Juventus, who he regards as the competition favourites.

You can be sure Bayern weren’t so pleased, though. If you take out his dismal record for Mainz, Klopp’s record against the Bavarians is actually pretty good.

It reads nine wins, three draws and 10 defeats, that run including the impressive five straight wins from October 2010 through to May 2012.

Klopp was actually close to becoming Bayern’s manager back in 2008 and looking at his work with both Dortmund and Liverpool, Die Roten president Uli Hoeness must regret the decision to overlook him.

He’s the perfect fit for Bayern and given Kovac’s struggles this season, you cannot help but feel they’d happily swap the two coaches.

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