Bayern Munich held Liverpool to a 0-0 draw at Anfield on Tuesday in their Champions League round-of-16 first leg.
The Bavarians put in a defensive masterclass, with the likes of Niklas Sule and Mats Hummels totally shutting out Liverpool’s front three.
Niko Kovac’s side were tactically perfect as their midfield controlled possession and dampened the atmosphere at a famously raucous Anfield, leaving Jurgen Klopp frustrated and needing a huge effort in the second leg at the Allianz Arena next month.
But what did we learn from this intriguing battle between two European juggernauts? Read on to find out.
1. Bayern bend but don’t break
So many times over the years we’ve seen world class teams come to Anfield and completely lose it, going from champs to chumps under Klopp’s ruthless ‘gegenpress’ or Rafa’s rigidness.
No such problems for Bayern Munich on Tuesday, though, as the German champions kept their shape brilliantly and held onto possession with the composure of a side that’s been together for years and knows each other’s games inside out.
The Bavarians even had the cheek to play with the ball on their own byline, with the likes of Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Joshua Kimmich chipping the ball around the Bayern defence with an unreal air of calm. Off the ball, the Bundesliga champions were like a brick wall, restricting one of the most potent attacking forces in Europe to speculative efforts and crosses into the box.
Their reward for this bravery in possession and brilliant tactical discipline was a priceless 0-0 draw that they will lock up and cradle all the way back to Germany for the second leg.
2. Liverpool’s patch-work defence holds out
With a front three of Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman and Robert Lewandowski lining up for Bayern Munich, even the most fanatical Liverpool fan must have been shooting a nervous glance at their Van Dijk-less defence.
Fabinho has been steadily improving this season but isn’t a natural centre-back, while Joel Matip can go from rock solid to vaporous in the blink of an eye.
On Tuesday, though, that ramshackle centre-back pairing did Jurgen Klopp proud, restricting Lewandowski to just three touches inside the Liverpool penalty area throughout the entire game and tackling, intercepting and shutting everything that came their way. In fact, it was Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold who had the more demanding evening, with Coman and, even more so, Gnabry constantly testing Liverpool down the flanks.
The Reds saw it through until the end and held on to their clean sheet, though. And that shutout will be so valuable when they head to the Allianz Arena for the return leg next month.
3. Right-back to square one
No player made more tackles (3) or won more aerial duels (2) than Kimmich in the first half at Anfield on Tuesday, with the 24-year-old putting in a defensive masterclass against the unpredictable, explosive talents of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.
However, that first half was tainted in the 27th minute when the Germany international cynically hacked down Mane as the Senegalese attempted to race down Liverpool’s left wing. An inevitable yellow card followed and although Kimmich thought he was taking one for the team, he has instead left manager Niko Kovac with a massive headache for the second leg in March; that booking means Kimmich will be suspended for the clash at the Allianz, leaving an ageing Rafinha as the only natural option at right-back.
Not ideal when dealing with the pace and trickery of Liverpool’s deadly front three and Kovac will be even more incensed by the fact that Kimmich didn’t even need to make the challenge, with Javi Martinez in close attendance.
4. Mop up man puts in another unsung performance
Jordan Henderson doesn’t half take some stick. Whether it’s taunts from opposition supporters or being the scapegoat for his own, the England international is incredibly understated and misunderstood.
On Tuesday, though, nobody could question the 28-year-old. Henderson shielded Liverpool’s make-do defence with a match-high four tackles, won the most aerial duels (3) of any player in a red shirt and controlled possession with an 83% pass success and 78 touches of the ball – no Liverpool player outperformed him in these aspects.
Jurgen Klopp knows all too well the experience and tactical value Henderson brings and his captain put in an excellent all-round performance as Liverpool’s big stars were snuffed out by Bayern’s brilliant defence.
5. Home comforts go begging
Given that Liverpool lost all three of their away games during the Champions League group stage, Klopp and his Kop faithful will have been desperate to take some sort of lead to the Allianz Arena in March.
Unfortunately for the Reds, Bayern held out for an incredibly valuable 0-0 draw courtesy of some resolute defending, brilliant game management and supreme tactical discipline.
Many tipped Liverpool as big favourites heading into this tie, some will reconsider that standpoint now with that away record. Bayern will absolutely fancy themselves at home and Klopp knows he must buck this season’s trend if the Reds are to go any further in this season’s Champions League.