Liverpool and Bayern Munich played out a tense and absorbing goalless draw when they began their round-of-16 commitments in the Champions League.
In a game of precious few chances, the closest either side came to a breakthrough on Tuesday came early on when Joel Matip’s blushes were saved by Reds goalkeeper Alisson after the centre-back sliced a close-range clearance.
The sides meet again at Allianz Arena on March 14. Here we examine three key talking points to emerge from the clash:
MANE’S INCONSISTENT FINISHING
Sadio Mane is the type of the player to make the incredibly difficult look improbably easy and then in a vexing twist, make the simple appear hard.
Liverpool had their chances at Anfield, particularly in the first half, and Mane was guilty of missing prime opportunities.
It’s a criticism which has been levelled at the Senegalese forward for much of his career, and it seems an odd thing to say of a player who came into this tie scoring in each of his last four appearances.
There were two Mane misses which the Reds could well come to regret. The first was around the half-hour mark when a trademark Liverpool break away saw Naby Keita work space to shoot.
His deflected effort bounced through to a marginally onside Mane, square in front of goal, and as he spun to turn the ball towards the bottom corner, his connection dragged the shot wide.
A minimal expectation was to hit the target given the space and time he was afforded. The next one, in his defence, was much more difficult as he was forced to contort his body and attempt a rather lavish overhead kick after another Keita strike was blocked. That effort was also well wide.
The 26-year-old is a player with a gifted skill set, but composure has never really been his finest trait and it’s something which if he improved, would see him compete for top goalscorer awards.
Liverpool desperately needed one from him on Tuesday and he failed to deliver. Scoring in Munich will be no easy feat, but then Mane does seem to make it harder for himself.
LIVERPOOL MIDFIELD DOES ITS JOB
It was one of the main talking points discussed here before this fixture and it ultimately came to fruition.
Liverpool’s control of the midfield was always going to dictate the state of the tie, but the incredible efforts of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Keita went to waste because of those around them.
Indeed, Mane’s profligacy has already been discussed and we’ll come on to defence as well. But make no mistake, the performances of those three cannot be overlooked.
Henderson’s entire Liverpool career has been encased with doubt, not from his managers it must be said, but certainly from the supporters.
What you can’t deny, though, is that in home fixtures against elite competition, the Reds captain is a massive influence.
The 28-year-old was everywhere on Tuesday, helping to double up on electric wingers Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry whenever they tried to exploit space as the full-backs retreated into position.
Even with the shuttling across, he still managed to marshal space infield and fire quick balls out of the back. And then the two ahead were superb whenever they received the ball.
Keita’s first touch was so silky and his interchanging of play around the box was seamless.
Wijnaldum, operating higher up the pitch, was again excellent. Virtually impossible to knock off the ball, his constant twisting and turning dragged players out of position and he attacking with purpose and guile.
A faultless performance from the middle three, who will have another huge role to play in the second-leg.
INTENSITY BREEDS MISTAKES
One of the big discussions from this game is just how error-strewn both sides were. Yet, that owes to the ridiculous intensity it was played at.
Bad decisions led to wrong passes and wayward touches. The incorrect options were often taken and it was disproportionate amount considering the quality on both sides.
But neither team was allowed time in possession. Both employed high presses to unsettle one another and the defences in particularly really struggled.
If you look at the first half, Liverpool’s backline achieved a 76.6 percent pass success rate, down from the 90.2 percent against Bournemouth at the weekend.
Bayern, too, also suffered with their five only marginally better with an 81.7-per-cent success rate, again way down on the 92 per cent they recorded at Augsburg.
That intensity made for a fascinating watch, but it did also mean the quality was much lower than we would expect from two elite European sides. Both will need to improve in the second leg.
Damn. Gnabry is good. Arsenal could use a player with his type of creativity.— Zito (@_Zeets) February 19, 2019
Considering Bayern Munich failed to register a shot on target, picking out one of their attackers for praise would seem odd.
However, Serge Gnabry was the standout. Not many wingers have caused left-back Andrew Robertson a lot of unease this season, but the former Arsenal man got inside his head and mangled it with a display of trickery and direct running.
One piece of play in particular could have led to a goal. Early in the first half, the 23-year-old sumptuously brought down a long diagonal ball, feinted to his left, darted to the right to leave Robertson bent out of shape and then fired the ball across goal.
Matip almost diverted into his own net, only for Alisson to be in the right spot to block. Bayern’s ploy was obvious: to release Gnabry as quickly as possibly and leave him one v one with Robertson.
The Germany international was a constant threat and that was further evidenced in the second half when he elegantly moved in from his wide-right position to smack a left-footed strike just over the crossbar.
Alisson was beaten by the pace. Bayern’s best moments arrived when they were able to release Gnabry – it just wasn’t quite enough.
But considering the talk for a long time about this Bayern team has been about the lack of options to replace aging wing men Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, it’s fair to say that on the big stage, Gnabry is doing his best to dispel that notion.
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