Bayern Munich are in a slightly precarious position heading into the home leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie against Liverpool. A 0-0 draw in the first leg means any score draw would send the Reds into the quarter-finals on away goals, so Niko Kovac’s side pretty much have to go for a win on Wednesday.
But Kovac has masterminded a turnaround in form for his side that has seen Bayern erase a nine-point gap to Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga and in fact take the lead in the title race, albeit only on goal difference, and thus they enter this clash against Liverpool high on confidence.
Here’s a look at the tactical talking points Kovac will be weighing up as he looks to plot Bayern’s path to the quarter-finals. Check out analysis of Liverpool’s tactics here.
AN ATTACKING 4-2-3-1 COULD UNLEASH BAYERN’S CREATIVE DUO
Over the last month, as Bayern have closed the gap on Dortmund, Kovac has alternated between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 formation.
In essence both become a 4-1-4-1, or almost a 4-1-2-3, with Bayern in possession, as Javi Martinez sits as the deep-lying midfielder while Thiago Alcantara and James Rodriguez, who plays as the left-sided midfielder in a 4-3-3 and a No 10 in a 4-2-3-1, stay forward and assume playmaking duties.
As a basic shape, the 4-3-3 is slightly more conservative, and asks more defensively of Thiago and especially James. But Bayern can be conservative even with a 4-2-3-1, as they showed in the first leg with the fear of Liverpool’s counter apparent all night. At home, and needing a win, the more attacking nature of that formation can come to the fore, bringing the best out of the two attacking midfielders.
BAYERN NEED TO BE WARY OF LIVERPOOL COUNTER
Speaking of the Liverpool counter. As mentioned above, Bayern gave it great respect in the first leg, sacrificing some attacking thrust to ensure they weren’t caught out.
The priorities have changed slightly for the second leg, with another 0-0 draw unlikely but a draw by any other score good enough to knock Bayern out. So the calculation for Kovac is undoubtedly that Bayern must go for an outright win – perhaps negating any concerns about conceding an away goal.
But even if conceding is not a great worry, negating Liverpool’s counter remains the key tactical challenge for the Bayern manager. Martinez on his own will not be enough to do that – so could he reduce the attacking responsibilities of his full-backs, and trust the rest of his attack to get the job done without the help? David Alaba and Rafinha could then concentrate on Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, while their team-mates hunt for the goals.
Liverpool’s Champions League tie against Bayern Munich is finely poised heading into Wednesday’s second leg, locked at 0-0 after the two sides’ draw at Anfield last month.
Jurgen Klopp’s team may have the slightest of advantages, knowing that simply scoring an away goal would increase the pressure on Bayern, but an outright win for the hosts will see the Reds crash out disappointingly at the last-16 stage having made last year’s final.
Here’s a look at the key tactical talking points for Klopp to consider as he plots his side’s route to the quarter-finals. Check out our analysis of Bayern manager Niko Kovac’s tactics here.
A RETURN TO THE LIVERPOOL OF OLD FOR KLOPP
Liverpool have adjusted to playing a more patient, possession-based game at times this season as Klopp has adapted to sides sitting deep against his team and looked to conserve his players’ energy over the course of a long, grueling campaign.
But this is the perfect occasion for last season’s Liverpool to make an appearance. The counter-attacking, gegenpressing, heavy metal football that is Klopp’s forte should be perfectly suited to this game, where Bayern, playing at home and unlikely to play for a 0-0 draw and penalties, need to score.
Expect full-backs pressed up high, and Roberto Firmino leading the Reds’ front three in harassing Bayern’s defence throughout. If all goes to plan, Liverpool could replicate the 5-1 aggregate triumph over Man City in last season’s quarter-finals, blitzing Bayern en route to another famous European win.
PUSH UP HIGH AGAINST BAYERN’S FULL-BACKS
To make the counter-attack even more lethal, Klopp could instruct Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, notionally the wide players in his attack, to stay as far forward as possible, even when Liverpool are defending. Matched up against Bayern right-back Rafinha, Mane could be the one to profit the most from this tactic.
Rafinha will be a key part of Bayern’s attack, with the German side’s playing style involving the full-backs coming forward whenever they’re in possession. Stationing Mane in an advanced role would mean he could regularly catch Rafinha out of position, or force Bayern manager Niko Kovac to instruct his right-back to stay back and guard against the counter.
With Salah doing the same to Alaba on the other flank, Liverpool could neutralise both Bayern full-backs and reduce the potency of the home side’s attack – or leave themselves open on the counter.
Juventus go into the home leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie looking to mount a comeback from 2-0 down, no small feat against a hardened, veteran Atletico Madrid side that is a force to be reckoned with in this competition.
For the Italian giants, this season was always looking like a European title or bust campaign, and they’re dangerously close to the bust side of that equation unless they can pull off an unlikely win.
Here’s a look at the talking points ahead of Tuesday’s tie.
RONALDO GIVES JUVENTUS HOPE
Atletico may have kept him from scoring in the first leg, but they are aware of what old foe Cristiano Ronaldo is capable of. The former Real Madrid forward played in 31 Madrid derbies, and scored 22 goals. That includes a hat-trick in a 3-0 home win – exactly the result Juventus need on Tuesday.
Diego Simeone knows that no matter how well he organises his defence, an in-form Ronaldo can be impossible to contain. The 34-year-old has thrived against the all-star defence of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez before, so there’s no reason he can’t do it again.
Ronaldo has won everything and will go down as one of the game’s best-ever players, but his motivation for this game will be interesting to watch, as well. He arrived at Juventus with one goal in mind for both club and player: get the team over the hump in the Champions League. For his first season in Turin to end with a round of 16 exit would be almost comical.
The Portugal icon always seems to play with a chip on his shoulder, spurred on by doubters and critics real and imagined. But those critics will be very real if Juventus are knocked out on Tuesday. Atletico beware.
THIS IS ALLEGRI’S BIGGEST TEST
There’s pressure on Ronaldo to deliver on Tuesday, but there’s also pressure on the club. Signing a player who had led his previous team to three straight Champions League titles, with more or less the explicit purpose of doing the same for his new team, and then failing to do so?
Juventus may be on course for an eighth straight Serie A title, but while that level of dominance at home is impressive, it also starts losing its sheen the more the club fails in Europe. Adding a serial winner and then losing at the first hurdle in European competition would be disastrous.
It could also cost Massimiliano Allegri his job. The Italian has shown his ability in spades before, from his tactics in marquee wins, to his motivational skills in spurring an aging side to continue its mastery over its domestic rivals, but everything he’s achieved at Juventus may not be able to save him now.
An early exit may just add to the impression that Allegri is simply not the man to mastermind a European triumph, no matter his other qualifications. And with Ronado at 34, the window to win the Champions League is short and closing fast. Juve may decide that they need someone else in charge to take that final step.
COULD THIS BE ATLETICO’S YEAR?
Allegri has lost in the final of this competition twice with Juventus, but on both occasions they were outplayed in the final. That can’t be said of Atletico, who made the final in 2014 and 2016 only to lose to Madrid on both occasions, firstly thanks to a 94th-minute equaliser and an extra time surge, and then, in 2016, on penalties.
That sense of missed opportunities must surely be motivating Simeone and his players. Though nobody discounts their chances of winning this competition, the favourites are still teams like Barcelona, Manchester City, Liverpool, Bayern Munich – teams with more glamour attached to their names and more attacking philosophy in their game.
Holding a 2-0 lead going into Tuesday’s game, Atletico know what a chance this is to make a statement. Knock out Juventus, one of Europe’s grand old clubs, and they will have put down a marker.
One of Liverpool or Bayern will not be in the quarter-finals as the two sides play each other in the round of 16, while Barcelona’s progression, though likely, is not guaranteed – and the same could be said of City. Could this finally be the Rojiblancos’ year?
🗣 ¡𝔻𝕖𝕣𝕣𝕠𝕔𝕙𝕒𝕟𝕕𝕠 𝕔𝕠𝕣𝕒𝕛𝕖 𝕪 𝕔𝕠𝕣𝕒𝕫𝕠́𝕟...! 🎶— Atlético de Madrid (@atletienglish) March 11, 2019
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