The Champions League round of 16 has been full of thrills and spills so far, living up to its billing as the best competition in football. Manchester City’s massacre of Schalke aside, the ties have all provided plenty of entertainment – except for the two matches to be played on Wednesday. Between them, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, and Lyon scored no goals in the first leg, but with places in the quarter-finals on the line, those teams should catch up with the rest in the excitement races.
Bayern Munich vs Liverpool promises to be the pick of the two games, with Jurgen Klopp once again facing his old enemy from his homeland, looking to put the Reds’ season back on track after falling behind Man City in the Premier League. European football provides a welcome distraction and despite claims from pundits that Liverpool might be better off getting knocked out, Klopp is insistent that his side can compete on all fronts.
He will be without midfielder Naby Keita (£3.17) for the game in Munich, while Trent Alexander-Arnold (£4.47) is a doubt, meaning they could field a makeshift backline just as they had to at Anfield. The return of Virgil van Dijk (£4.89) is a massive boost for the visitors, who have to keep the competition’s top scorer in check. Robert Lewandowski (£3.02) has eight goals so far in the competition and will be looking to improve on his knockout stage return, which has been criticised for its inconsistency.
Dejan Lovren (£0.96) and James Milner (£2.48) are in contention for Liverpool after travelling with the squad, meaning Klopp should have most of his players to work with. The same cannot be said of his opposite number Niko Kovac (£1.68). Bayern Munich have Thomas Muller (£1.51) and Joshua Kimmich (£7.09) ruled out through suspension, while Arjen Robben (£0.56) and Corentin Tolisso (£2.52) are long-term absentees. David Alaba (£2.35) and Kingsley Coman (£2.85) were doubtful entering the week, but Alaba should be fit enough to start and Coman could find a spot on the bench.
Kimmich’s absence means Rafinha (£1.10) will deputize at right-back with the versatile Brazilian the only senior full-back option at the club following their sale Juan Bernat (£1.29) to PSG in the summer. Bernat was a revelation in the Champions League this season, making Bayern’s decision to rely on just three full-backs look even worse.
Three of Bayern’s biggest stars were put out to pasture by Germany boss Joachim Low last week, and Klopp is wary that the anger at the decision could spur on the Bavarians. Muller is banned, but Mats Hummels (£1.86) will definitely start with Jerome Boateng (£1.35) a viable option as his defensive partner.
“The only possibility for me is to think about how I’d react,” Klopp told reporters in his pre-match press conference. “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.”
Bayern will also hope to bring their excellent league form to Europe – a stark contrast to Liverpool, who have let their own domestic lead slip since Christmas. Kovac’s men were seven points adrift of Borussia Dortmund but a brilliant start to 2019 has seen them erase that points difference and even move ahead of their Bundesliga rivals on goal difference thanks to a 6-0 win over Wolfsburg on Saturday.
After a strong defensive performance at Anfield, Kovac is ready to take the shackles off in Munich. “There won’t be a 0-0,” he insisted. “We want to win it, and that is how we will approach the game; you cannot rely twice on a goalless draw to advance.”
With the potency both teams have up front, another scoreless draw seems unimaginable. And with qualification on the line, both sides will attempt to outscore each other. Even after all the drama so far in the Champions League, Bayern Munich vs Liverpool could end up being the tie of the round.