With the first week of fixtures over, let’s start looking at next week’s games, starting with by the most interesting, Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich and title challengers and last year’s finalists Liverpool. It’s a game between 2 European heavyweights, but do they both even want to win this tournament?
We’ll start with Liverpool, who are arguably having their best season in the league since Suarez’s time in Anfield. A combination of a forward line whoj just get each other and defensive improvements have truly made them worthy challengers, but not deserving of a title. If their closest opponents were not this one in a million Manchester City side, I’d say they would definitely earn they praise. When talking about Liverpool, their summer window was one of their highlights. They fixed a majority of the issues I had with their squad. They fixed their hard working midfield by bringing an excellent defensive midfielder in Fabinho and a one in a million in Naby Keita (even if he hasn’t been at his best so far). The best part about bringing in these players is the added competition they’ve given. Wijnaldum and Milner have both improved this season, and have became regulars in the side. While I don’t like Wijnaldum in the slightest (his inconsistency and underwhelming numbers just make him not very useful player to me), it’s hard to deny he has had his best season at Merseyside. Milner is another who is in the form of his career. He is been the best creator in that midfield and balls to the full back have been intrusmental. I do say they haven’t deserved to be how close to city as they have, but they deserve credit for that. Klopp has weakened his press and put Salah as the point man in the team, and it’s been so successful. Firmino still leads the press, but it gives Salah the freedom to lead the line, and he might be in the best form of his career. He leads his team in every category, shots, chance creation and dribbles, and keeps that attack ticking with his pace and movement. The most important element of this side is the new found flexibility. When you move Firmino in a deeper position, it really helps give that midfield an option and doesn’t leave such a gap between the forward line and the midfield. It’s been a success, and now Klopp has even more options on how to set up his side. While their league form has been sensational, their performances in the Champions League have been worrying. Their defeats away to Paris, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade were very worrying, because it highlighted their weaknesses and their occasion to just forget the basics of football. Away games in the Champions League are tough, and Liverpool just dropped off. They were taking less shots and giving away way more big chances than they usually do. Their usual aggression and general effort just seemed to drop off, especially against Napoli. It’s left them with clear weaknesses, that if you deal with the midfield, it makes them so much easier to handle. They are still one of the best sides in the competition, and will be very hard to stop.
With Salah already highlighted. let’s look at 2 other players that will have an influence in this game, starting with Virgil Van Dijk. The Dutchman has single handedly fixed that defence and given them a monsterous aerial prescene and a great distributor. Liverpool were chasing Van Dijk for months, and finally landed their man for £75 million last January. He has arguably been one of Liverpool’s best ever signings in the Premier League era. He is just so reliable and leads that back line and has improved every defender who plays next to him. The best thing to say about Van Dijk is he is yet be dribbled past in the Premier League. That is absolutely incredible. He will be needed in a game against an opponents with true European pedigree, and Liverpool need a leader, especially at the Allianz. While I do like Van Dijk and mostly like Salah (the diving hasn’t helped him recently), I love Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian is the reason why that front 3 click so well. His pressing, creativity and work ethic make him the perfect partner for Mane and Salah. He has been so consistent during his time in Liverpool, He has contibuted to more than 15 goals in every domestic season for the Reds, and is a favourite for Jurgen Klopp. While Salah and Mane were great in the Champions League last season. He played every game and arguably gave his best performances. He contributed to 17 goals in 13 starts. He gave out the highest shot numbers and creative figures, and was the stand out performer for a majority of Liverpool’s games. Whether he is on the ball or off it, Bayern should be worried for what he can do to them.
Moving on to Bayern, who haven’t had as bad of a season as many have attempted to point out. The best way to describe it is unfortunate. Just looking at thier xPTS, it shows that Bayern should be 8 points clear ahead of Dortmund, but thanks to a few unfortunate results and Favre breaking xG as usual, Bayern are 5 behind Dortmund and just in front of Gladbach. I’ve covered the negatives multiple times in the past so why not look at the more positive side? Well they still top the Bundesliga for shots, possession, pass accuracy and face the least amount of shots. They are still a very good side, but a lack of recruitment has made this squad weak in some areas. Niko Kovac is doing a good job, but has had the problem of relatively poor backing from the board have given Kovac criticism that isn’t entirely his fault. Bayern have an average age of 27,3, the highest in the Bundesliga. It’s worrying when their closest competitors, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund, have average age’s of 23,9 and 24,9 respectively. While signings like Goretzka, Gnabry and Tolisso show that they have thought ahead in some areas, there are still players in this side that should be looking at moving on. Robben and Ribery are leaving in the summer, which is long overdue. Both have been some of the best wingers of the century, but they shouldn’t be relying on these players when they are both in their mid 30s. Some of their defenders also need to be looking at replacing. While I think Boateng and Hummels are still great defenders, one of them should move on, most definitely Boateng. The World Cup winner has struggled with injuries, and has relied on his physicality for years now. Hummels does not, which makes him more useful as he ages. Even with Pavard coming in the summer, they need to start truly future proofing the side, and now with Koman and Gnabry being the only attackers in the side that can be seen as young, their next few summers could possibly be the most important in the club’s recent history. I do think Bayern have been hugely unlucky to not be top of the Bundesliga, but their problems are all their own.
While Lewandowski is by far their biggest threat, with the forward scoring the joint most goals in the group stages, and his shot numbers being very good with 4 per game, it’s too obvious. We’ll instead look at two other players that will cause Liverpool plenty of problems. The first being, as previously mentioned, Kinglsey Coman. The Frenchman has had his difficulties while playing for the champions, with his game time limited thanks to Robben and Ribery’s continued persistence to remain as key players, it has meant he isn’t given as much game time as he so rightly deserves. Why does he deserve it? Well he has confortably been their best wide player. With Robben, Ribery and Gnabry all not being at their best, it has made Coman vital to this side. Even with the winger missing a majority of the season due to an injury he sustained in the first game of the season, Kovac as seen Coman as a player that must remain part of his first team plans. He put in a man of the match display against Augsburg, which saw him score 2 and assist another, which have been his only goal involvments this season, but his numbers have still been very positive. His xG90 and xA90 combined this season is a good 0.64, the highest in his career. He has only made 11 appearances this season, but it shows just how well he has played under Kovac. He has been unbeatable at times, with his pace, dribbling and chance creation all incredible this season. He has to play every game, but it’s a shame his injury record is still a worry. He’s now 22, which means it is about time for him to truly show the potential he’s promised for so long. Finally, let’s discuss Thiago Alcantara. The Spaniard has been one of the best midfielders in Europe for the past 3 years, but like Coman, he has also had his injury problems in the past. This hasn’t stopped the Spaniard in being almost a complete midfielder. He averages 4.2 tackles and interceptions per game, completes 2.2 dribbles and averages 82 passes a game. Without Thiago in the side, they lack a player who isn’t afraid to get on the ball and help transition to attack, while relieving pressure off the defence. He is one of their most important players, and Bayern will need to get him on the ball as much as possible.
If Liverpool want to win this tie, they must attack down the flanks. If Bayern’s 3-1 loss against Leverkusen has taught us anything, it’s that they struggle when dealing with fast wingers, and Liverpool definitely have some of them. Bailey and Bellarabi cause Alaba and Rafinha plenty of problems, with the wingers completing 5 dribbles between them. Even with Kimmich coming back, it doesn’t change the fact that because Bayern advance their full backs so far forward, it leaves so much space for wingers to exploit. When Bayern struggle against teams, it’s against those who have more energy and hit them in the wide areas. Liverpool should deploy their 4-3-3. This kind of game is made for Firmino. His pressing will be key in dealing with an aging back line and a goalkeeper who is having his worst season in the his esteemed career in Neuer. Liverpool have been good this season, but it is time for them to turn on the spark of their incredible run last season, where their forwards that their best performances, and show this Bayern side that they aren’t top dogs anymore in European football.
However if Bayern want to advance to the next round, they must get Thiago on the ball as much as possible. I mentioned this before, but he is an excellent midfielder and if they are to get anything out of this game, Thiago needs to put his mark on this game. Modric and Kroos proved that if you play midfielders with game intelligence and great transitional play, it truly makes it hard for Liverpool. They cannot play anyone who isn’t afraid to run the length of the pitch. Coman. Gnabry, Rodriguez and even Goretzka have to play. Kovac might have to sacrifice everything that Pep has built and established, if they want to advance.
I’m going for Liverpool to advance here, and quite comfortably. This is still a good Bayern side, but this Liverpool side are still favourites. On their day, they can beat anyone, and they have the players and energy to break this Bayern side. The game at Anfield could be a battering, and it could be a massive statement for the Reds. Both want to win their domestic campaigns arguably more than this trophy, so it will be interesting to see how both will set up.