Klopp looks to deliver death blow in rare tie on a knife edge
Liverpool boss wary of threat posed by revived Bayern in precarious Munich cauldron
Over the last few days, one of the main points that Jurgen Klopp has been discussing with his Liverpool players is how to navigate a seismic Champions League second leg now they don't have a significant advantage. That, after all, is pretty much all this group of players are used to with him in this competition.
They had leads of three goals or more from all three of their first legs last season: 5-0 against Porto, 3-0 against Manchester City, 5-2 against Roma.
So, this 0-0 going to Bayern Munich marks a significant break from the trend for the team - but also for the competition.
Since scoreless draws are now so genuinely rare at this level, it is even rarer to have a match so delicately poised. This might well be the most knife-edged second leg we've seen in years. That is no exaggeration and does not just apply to the scoreline.
There's also the marginally wavering situations of two very well matched teams, that Klopp also alluded to before the game.
"It was only three weeks ago I had to calm everyone down because they were saying: 'It's only Bayern, they are not in the best moment and you have to go through'," Klopp argued. Three weeks later we are second and they are first and it's: 'Oh wow'."
Those close to the Bayern squad say they are suddenly buoyantly confident. That is to be expected given they've quickly returned to their excellent standards since the first leg, having just hammered Wolfsburg 6-0.
This is the Bayern everyone knows and fears. This is why Liverpool are bracing themselves for a different tone of tie to the first leg, especially from the very start. It was notable how Virgil van Dijk almost perfectly echoed Klopp's words about that, revealing how it is something that has been drilled into the team.
"Now we have to show it is not like this - we have to score if we want to go through; they have to score if they want to go through," Klopp initially said. "This will change the game a little bit but not too much, especially probably at the beginning."
Van Dijk almost perfectly repeated this: "They changed a bit the way they played, so we need to be up for a big fight because they are probably going to come all in, especially in the beginning."
Liverpool are thereby going to have to start on a strong defensive footing, especially in an Allianz Arena that Manuel Neuer says will be "on fire".
"I don't think it will end 0-0, but we will receive the kind of support in our stadium tomorrow the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time," manager Nico Kovac added. "We have shown lots of spirit and creativity in the Bundesliga going forward. I'm in the mood to see us play even more effectively at home with the tailwind of our fans."
And yet that big advantage comes with one big threat. A raucous Allianz Arena can very quickly be made silent by a sudden away goal, the prospect of which hangs over this tie.
It creates another knife-edge dilemma for Bayern. They must attack, but not attack too much.
"We have seen what Liverpool can do [on the break]," Neuer said.
"It's important to cover the space at the back, always have the numbers to defend counter-attacks, but of course we want to take the lead."
And yet the knife-edge is further twisted, not least regarding the pressure of the occasion. While more has been made of late of Liverpool's poor recent away form in Europe, albeit from a mere three matches, this match is almost a "free hit" given how much is focused on the Premier League title. It is all the more ironic they have recently slipped behind there, while Bayern have once more gone ahead in their own race, given the Champions League is the one the German champions really want.
The pressure is all on them, something only heightened by the fact this may be the last stand for this cycle ahead of a major overhaul in the summer. That was something put into brutal perspective in the last month by Germany manager Jogi Loew indefinitely dropping team totems Mats Hummels, Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng from the national side.
Those who know the trio say it has actually caused an upswing in their performance. Maybe that was the motivation needed after what many did perceive as a complacency and connected stagnation setting in.
And it may yet prove a factor in their quest to win the European Cup again. They have long suffered from the same issue as Juventus in that regard, whereby the easy domination of the domestic league has only made the Champions League more of an obsession, and apparently even more elusive, with the Italian champions perhaps the only other club to feel that more acutely.
It does put an extra pressure on this group, and thereby this game. After all this, they really won't want to go out so early, and so feebly.
Loew might have done them a favour in that regard, and Klopp was asked about this before the game.
"I was never in contention for the national team but if something like this happened to you when you are young, fit and healthy then I think I would try to show it was a mistake."
The flipside is that, as good as Bayern's attack has become again, they remain prone to mistakes of their own at the back. There is a fragility there, that will likely be further exposed by the suspension of Joshua Kimmich.
There, Liverpool must look to finally plunge the knife.
"Everyone knows you can go out against Bayern and no-one will say: 'How could that happen?' the German said. "We see it only as an opportunity. Win it or go out."
Those different perspectives are two more factors further tilting this beautifully balanced tie, but will doubtless ensure it swings and sweeps much more than the first leg. (© Independent News Services)
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