Five-time European Cup winners Liverpool and Bayern Munich meet for the eighth time on Tuesday evening in this season’s Champions League last-16 first leg at Anfield.
Both clubs, who have each contested three Champions League finals this century, are considered among the favourites to reach the final in Madrid.
Bayern topped a group containing Ajax, Benfica and AEK Athens while Liverpool finished behind Paris Saint-Germain and condemned Napoli to Europa League football.
For Reds manager Jurgen Klopp it’s a reunion with an old foe; throughout much of his seven years in charge of Borussia Dortmund the Stuttgart-born tactician was a thorn in the Bavarian giants’ side.
This reunion also presents a chance to gain a level of historical revenge as Bayern won their fifth European Cup at BVB’s expense in 2013; but the same could be said for Niko Kovač’s team, who Liverpool defeated en route to the 1981 final.
So, with that being said, how will both clubs line up? Read on to see who the media are expecting to take to the Anfield pitch.
1. Fabinho to fill in at the back
The biggest team news surrounding Liverpool heading into Bayern’s arrival is the absence of central defensive colossus Virgil van Dijk, who misses out through suspension.
That wouldn’t be too much of worry if Klopp’s usual back-ups were available. But, they’re not. Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren are sidelined, though the latter is facing a late fitness test. So, at the moment, the only centre-back ready for action is Joel Matip.
Naturally, this is where Klopp starts to earn the big bucks. He could alter his team’s shape, but that’s unlikely, which means Liverpool starting in their familiar 4-3-3 with Matip alongside midfielder-cum-defender Fabinho.
Nominally utilised in a defensive midfield role the Brazilian has already played in defence twice; playing the full 90 minutes against Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League (1-0 away win) and the same amount in a 2-1 FA Cup third round defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Elsewhere, the expectation is Klopp’s strongest team including a midfield triumvirate of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum who often play in the big games.
UEFA‘s predicted Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Fabinho, Matip, Robertson; Henderson, Milner, Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané
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2. Coman recovers in time
Bayern aren’t having it all their own way in the Bundesliga this season. After the opening 22 matches the Bavarians are two points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund, though the Black and Yellows have a game in hand.
Last time out, at Augsburg, they came from behind twice to pick up three vital points in a 3-2 victory. It was their ninth win in 10 league outings and the star was undoubtedly Kingsley Coman, who bagged his first two Bundesliga goals of the campaign.
But it wouldn’t be in line with the year they’re having if there wasn’t a snag. And that came in the final moments of the game when Coman, who is now assuming a greater role under Kovač, picked up a knock. It affected his ankle which led to Bayern supporters taking a sharp intake of breath.
With the Liverpool game in only a few days time, his participation was suddenly put in doubt, however those fears have since faded with many observers pencilling him to start. That will be a huge boost for Bayern if it proves to be the case but Franck Ribery is also an option.
Coman and Serge Gnabry, a far cry from the Ribery-Arjen Robben days, are expected to start on the flanks.
Elsewhere, the absence of Jérôme Boateng shouldn’t be felt too much considering Niklas Süle and Mats Hummels are Bayern’s first choice central defensive partnership. The omission of Thomas Muller, due to suspension, means James Rodriguez begins in the deep-lying forward role behind serial marksman Robert Lewandowski.
Kicker‘s predicted Bayern XI (4-2-3-1): Neuer; Kimmich, Süle, Hummels, Alaba; Goretzka, Thiago; Gnabry, James, Coman; Lewandowski
3. Keita over Hendo?
As previously mentioned, whenever Liverpool play the big games Klopp has opted for the tried and tested in midfield. Henderson, James Milner and Wijnaldum is the axis of choice and many are expecting them to trot out at Anfield.
That is not to say Klopp doesn’t have options to shake things up and spring a surprise on Bayern. One name familiar to Kovač’s men is Naby Keita, who hasn’t exactly pulled up any trees during his first season at Liverpool but it’s way too early to make any conclusions.
His quality has already been proven at RB Leipzig and playing in such a massive game could galvanise him.
His presence could see Henderson drop out, meaning he’ll play the No.8 role to complement the versatile duo of Milner and Wijnaldum.