Liverpool need to snap losing away form to progress past Bayern Munich
Premier League club have lost five Uefa Champions League games in a row - a sixth will end their campaign in the last-16
Five defeats in a row. It may seem a statistic that does not belong to a team with a solitary league loss this season. It is Liverpool’s Uefa Champions League record away from Anfield.
The first of those losses, against Roma, did not prevent them from prevailing in last year’s semi-final. The second, against Real Madrid, cost them a sixth European Cup.
The last three meant that, for the first time in their history, Liverpool lost all three away group games. They averted an early exit but a sixth setback now would allow them to concentrate on the Premier League which, many think, would be a boon to their title push.
There is no doubt which trophy the majority of fans most want to win. For players, brought up in different countries and contexts, the aims may be different.
“I will be perfectly honest with you, the most prestigious competition for me is the Champions League but the dream for the entire city and the club is the league so I am happy to sacrifice my dream for their dream,” Mohamed Salah told Sky Sports. “But if we win both it would be great and this is what we are trying to do.”
And eliminating Bayern Munich would propel Liverpool into the position of one of the favourites for the Champions League. Amid the unfavourable omens of their recent record on the road, there are a couple of positive ones.
They drew 0-0 at Anfield three weeks ago. The previous time the first leg of one of their Champions League knockout ties ended goalless, it was the 2005 semi-final against Chelsea. Liverpool need no reminders what came next.
The 1981 semi-final at Anfield also brought a stalemate. The return fixture with Bayern remains one of Liverpool’s most celebrated draws; a 1-1 scoreline would do the trick again on Wednesday night, if someone can assume the mantle of Ray Kennedy, their scorer then.
The chances are that no one will become the next Howard Gayle, simply because the circumstances were so improbable. Gayle was the substitute who was substituted, but who ran Bayern ragged in just his second senior appearance, making such an impact his autobiography was called “61 Minutes in Munich”.
A makeshift defence included the understudies Colin Irwin and Richard Money. Now Liverpool can savour the sense they are being strengthened, not weakened. Fabinho will not have to be an auxiliary centre-back as Virgil van Dijk returns after suspension, ready to combat Robert Lewandowski.
Bayern’s 29-goal top scorer fired Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund to the 2012 Bundesliga crown. “You don’t need to give any opportunities to those strikers because they will punish you and they will score,” reflected the Dutchman. So Lewandowski has proved with back-to-back braces.
It has enabled Bayern to leapfrog his and Klopp’s old employers. “It’s a much more positive moment for Bayern – top of the table again, winning games comfortably again and all that stuff – so they are really back on track … if they ever left the track,” the Liverpool manager told the club’s official website. “I like that, not because I think it’s easier, just because it shows you in the analysis how strong they are.”
Liverpool scored five goals away at Porto at this stage in 2018. They have mustered a lone strike, a James Milner penalty against Paris Saint-Germain, on their ventures abroad this season. A side who destroyed defences at bewildering speed on their surge to the final may have been too cautious; indeed, they have not scored away from Anfield since February 4.
“Sometimes you have to know how to manage games,” Van Dijk added, but it is about getting the balance between defence and attack right.
It may bode well that Bayern have had two score draws in this season’s Champions League. Yet while they have been held twice by Ajax, subsequently the conquerors of Real Madrid, Klopp set his sights higher.
“I’m thinking: how can we cause them problems they have never had in the season so far against other opponents?” he added. “They have, of course, really strong opponents but if we are at our best we can be exceptional. But we have to be, actually – if we play a normal game there we have no chance and then we should go out.”
But if Klopp’s Liverpool can be called many things, normal is rarely one of them.
Published: March 13, 2019 09:51 AM