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

Alex Rea 18/02/2019
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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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Liverpool's Xherdan Shaqiri relishing reunion with old club Bayern Munich

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Xherdan Shaqiri

Liverpool forward Xherdan Shaqiri is relishing a Champions League reunion with former club Bayern Munich.

Shaqiri spent two-and-and-a-half years at Bayern before joining Stoke in a £12million deal in July 2015.

The 27-year-old Switzerland international moved on to Liverpool last summer and said he always hoped he would face Bayern in the Champions League.

“I was very happy because I wanted to play against Bayern Munich, against my old teammates and my old team,” Shaqiri told Liverpoolfc.com ahead of Tuesday’s last-16 first-leg tie at Anfield.

“It was an amazing time (at Bayern). We won a lot of titles, we won the Champions League. We had the best team Bayern Munich had.

“It was an amazing feeling to win so many trophies. I had many great memories there, I will never forget them. I’m really looking forward to going there and trying to win the game in Munich with my team.”

Liverpool were Champions League finalists last season, losing 3-1 to Real Madrid in Kiev. Jurgen Klopp’s side set up the Bayern tie by coming through a tough pre-Christmas qualifying group that also included Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade.

“They are going to be two very difficult games against Bayern because they are a top side,” Shaqiri said.

“The two games will be interesting because both teams attack and play offensively. We need two very good performances to go through. We can go very far, I hope.”

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Brazil legend Cafu warns Trent Alexander-Arnold not to take success for granted

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One of the best: Cafu.

Former Brazil full-back Cafu has warned Liverpool and England defender Trent Alexander-Arnold against taking success at a young age for granted.

At only 20-years-old, Alexander-Arnold has already featured in a Champions League final while he is an automatic selection when fit for Liverpool as they go in search of Premier League glory this season.

Tottenham’s Kieran Trippier is ahead of Alexander-Arnold in the England pecking order but Cafu – widely regarded as one of the finest right-backs of all-time – believes there is still plenty more to come from the Reds youngster.

However, he added the caveat that Alexander-Arnold must not rest on his laurels if he is to realise his full potential.

Speaking in his role as an academy member for Laureus, the 48-year-old said: “To play for the England national team, you have to be very good and to play at Liverpool, you have to be very, very good.

Reserve back Trent Alexander-Arnold

“But it takes time to mature and be consistent. Yes, he is very talented. For his position, I would advise him to work hard, do a lot of training, but above all show a lot of commitment to what he does.

“Never think that he is good enough. Don’t get complacent or big-headed. Work more and more.

“When I was the same age, I was playing for Sao Paulo in the main team. I was a father, so I had a lot of responsibility.

“Twenty is a good age to make a decision if he wants to be a football player or a ‘professional’ football player with a long, respected career.”

The Laureus World Sports Awards celebrate the most remarkable men and women from the world of sport along with their achievements from the previous calendar year. The Awards also showcase the work of Laureus Sport for Good, a charity which uses the power of sport to end violence, discrimination and disadvantage.

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