Liverpool v Bayern Munich: Attacking stars to dominate Anfield clash
Jurgen Klopp renews his old rivalry with Bayern Munich this week, and our Bundesliga expert Kevin Hatchard believes Liverpool can beat the Bavarians...
"Both defences have problems, and I think Liverpool can edge a tense yet exciting encounter."
Liverpool v Bayern Munich
Tuesday 19 February, 20:00
Live on BT Sport 2
Klopp's realism based on heartbreak and honesty
If anyone knows about just how strong Bayern Munich are, it's Jurgen Klopp. Although he broke the red-tinged dominance of German football with a pair of Bundesliga title wins and an astonishing 5-2 victory in the 2012 DFB Cup final, he also suffered plenty of low moments against FCB.
The agonising nature of his side's Champions League final defeat to Bayern at Wembley in 2013 will doubtless haunt him forever, and he couldn't lay a glove on Bayern during the Pep Guardiola era. Of course, it didn't help that he lost star players Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski to Dortmund's closest rivals.
Klopp has also carefully analysed the current Bayern squad, and is wisely playing down suggestions that Liverpool are favourites to progress from this gripping last-16 tie. Despite their excellence in the Premier League (taking 65 points from the first 78 available is a barely believable leap forward), LFC have failed to really catch fire in the Champions League this term. They lost all three of their away games, but their perfect form at Anfield saw them squeak past Napoli on Matchday Six.
The loss of Herculean centre-back Virgil van Dijk to suspension for the first leg is a huge blow, especially when you consider that Joe Gomez is also still sidelined. In Joel Matip and Fabinho, Liverpool are likely to field two players at centre-back that have played a lot of games in midfield. Both are very comfortable on the ball, but don't have the razor-sharp defensive instincts of the first-choice centre-halves.
At least the attack is fit and functioning. Mohamed Salah is the Premier League's joint-top scorer with 17 goals, and Sadio Mane has found the net in each of his last four Premier League matches. Roberto Firmino has looked a little out of sorts of late, but this is the kind of huge game the Brazilian tends to shine in.
Bayern fully aware of Anfield danger
When you win six Bundesliga titles in a row, it's only natural that a bit of complacency might set in, but Bayern Munich are under no illusions about the size of the task that faces them on Merseyside.
Veteran winger Arjen Robben described the draw as "the worst possible" and Mats Hummels (who played for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund) has praised his old boss for the way he sets his teams up, and warned his Bayern teammates they will have to play with courage.
A sobering campaign under new boss Niko Kovac has seen the Bavarian giants show frailty in defence and at times a lack of tactical invention in attack, while their old foes Borussia Dortmund have built a lead at the top of the Bundesliga table. This decline is far from terminal though - Bayern won their Champions League group, they have chipped away at Dortmund's domestic advantage with a run of nine wins in ten league matches, and they are still on course to win the DFB Cup.
There are clear weaknesses that Liverpool could exploit. Bayern have looked brittle in defence, especially in transition, and they haven't kept a Bundesliga clean sheet since the turn of the year.
Joshua Kimmich continues to be an attacking threat from right-back, but there are still issues with his positioning, and the form of centre-back Jerome Boateng has been a big concern for some time. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is not quite the imposing figure he once was, and while Kovac wasn't specifically referring to his keeper when he said "every shot seems to go in at the moment", it certainly wasn't a ringing endorsement.
There are also strengths for Liverpool to worry about. French winger Kingsley Coman scored twice in Friday's 3-2 win at Augsburg, and has been passed fit after an ankle injury. Midfielder Leon Goretzka has thrived since his free transfer from Schalke, and Serge Gnabry doesn't look out of place after last season's successful loan spell at Hoffenheim. For all the talk of Lewandowski's decline, the Polish superstar has still scored 25 goals in all competitions.
Liverpool can edge Anfield thriller
Liverpool's 100% home record in the Champions League and the fact they have only dropped four points at Anfield in the Premier League means I'm not hugely surprised to see them trading at [2.1] to take a first-leg lead. However, without the influential van Dijk in the hosts' ranks, it's not a price I can get excited about.
What I do think we'll see is a fast-paced game with a few goals. Bayern's defence is springing leaks, especially against teams who are adept at quick and clinical transitions, and Liverpool's defence has been weakened.
On that basis, I'd be more excited about backing a Liverpool/Over 2.5 Goals double at 9/5 on the Sportsbook, especially as Over 2.5 Goals on its own is a skinny [1.65] on the Exchange.
Mane to continue scoring streak
Both Mo Salah and Robert Lewandowski are the leaders in the To Score market at 10/11, but I'm plumping for Sadio Mane at 7/5.
Firstly, the Senegal international is in superb form, but secondly, I think he'll get room to manoeuvre against Bayern. If Joshua Kimmich plays right-back, he is often guilty of pushing too high in his efforts to support the attack, and on the break Mane can exploit that tendency.