Saturday 23 March 2019

Miguel Delaney: 'History favours Bayern Munich after draw with Liverpool but it's not as simple as that'

Liverpool's Joel Matip, Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita in action with Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski REUTERS/Phil Noble
Liverpool's Joel Matip, Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita in action with Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski REUTERS/Phil Noble

Miguel Delaney

After the only truly balanced result that knock-out European football can produce, there is now the question that will complicate and condition the whole second leg: who does a first-leg 0-0 actually benefit?

No one has a tangible advantage, after all, and that meant both managers were fairly balanced in their press conferences afterwards.

"It's not perfect, but it's good enough," Jurgen Klopp said after his Liverpool side's first-leg stalemate with Bayern Munich at Anfield.

"Half full, half empty," Niko Kovac added.

It is difficult to dispute any of that, just as it's difficult to now really argue out who is likelier to go through.

The obvious positive for Liverpool is that they didn't concede an away goal. A score draw puts them through.

The ominous negative, however, is the stats from such 0-0s. Of the 31 that have taken place since the European Cup became the Champions League in 1992, the club in Bayern Munich's position have gone through 22 times. Even from the 10 that have taken place since goal averages began to increase from 2008, the club in Bayern's position have gone through seven times.

There is still a significant caveat to that, though.

Most of those 0-0s came from an era when Champions League knock-out football was much cagier, and much more like Tuesday at Anfield. Sides more often offered each other the "respect" that Klopp also spoke of after this draw.

That has not been the case over the last few years, which is why a 0-0 like this was unique in more than one sense. The goal increase that began in 2008 with the revolution inspired by the pressing-possession football of Pep Guardiola and Spain actually properly escalated only in the last few years, as its effects went so much deeper.

In 2015-16, after all, the average goals-per-game was 2.78. By last season, that had leapt up to 3.21.

"Respect" was much less visible - especially away from home.

Read more here:

Both of these clubs have more than played their part in that. Their raucously open games have characterised the sensational last two seasons. It is reflected in the goal records. The 13 knock-out matches they collectively played last season produced 47 goals, an average of 3.6 per match.

Tuesday night was thereby some drop-off in so many senses, and a real anachronism. It was European football of the type we haven't seen for some time.

And it's difficult not to think that was down to the differentials of the untypical circumstances, rather than any concerted approach. This is why the stats may not be as relevant.

There's first of all the untypical context of their domestic campaigns. While Liverpool are for once leading their league, Bayern are for once failing to lead theirs. This did feel influential on the night, both in terms of atmosphere, and attitudes to the game.

Anfield did seem so much more subdued than on other European nights, and more subdued than for big league games, since that is now the big ambition for the season.

It was perhaps inevitable that Liverpool did not produce as intense a performance as we have become accustomed to on big occasions.

It was meanwhile as if Bayern allowed all the doubts from their own underwhelming domestic campaign to undercut them as the game went on. They had actually started impressively, and looked primed to get at a Liverpool defence that looked uncertain without the injured Virgil van Dijk, only to gradually recede as the game went on. They barely created anything.

One view is that they were confident they had Liverpool's number. Another view is that their caution saw them squander a chance to expose a backline there to be got at.

That will only be determined by the final result, but it also reflects how the psychology of this is now all the more influential because of the scoreline.

Bayern will be emboldened by home advantage, but that is the kind of thing that can evaporate with the silence that comes with a single away goal.

To go for one, meanwhile, Liverpool will themselves be emboldened by the the likely return of Van Dijk.

With nothing to fear, more to protect them, and everything to gain, it may well see a return of the more open football we normally associate with this Klopp team in Europe.

Bayern will thereby need to produce the kind of home form we normally associate with them beyond this season.

It's that balanced.

And while it might not be perfect for either side, as Klopp stated, it might well be the perfect set-up for a much better - more modern - second leg.

Independent News Service

The Left Wing: Why Irish fans shouldn't lose faith and how Joe Schmidt can turn things around for the World Cup

In association with Aldi

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport