Anfield was in fine form as Liverpool returned to European competition, hosting Bayern Munich. In a match that featured frenetic pace, end-to-end action, and ultimately tight tactics, the battle between the Reds ended in a 0-0 stalemate.
The first half was a tense affair that saw Bayern ride their luck and weather Liverpool’s press. The handful of chances the Reds created could have been enough to win but the defending Bundesliga champions remain a good side, despite struggling in their league. They recovered from a rocky start and made things plenty difficult for the home side.
Liverpool were unable to make any of their chances count, looking a bit like they had not played for 10 days. However, playing with a makeshift backline and adjusted midfield meant that the Merseysiders will head to Germany unscathed with every chance to win the tie.
The second half slowed and the visitors were able to drag the match into a stop-start affair that frustrated Liverpool further than the missed chances from the first 45. It took until the 80th minute for the Reds to get a shot on target after the break, as the final ball repeatedly failed to materialize.
Still, Liverpool should head to the Alianz Arena at full strength with some form following them. Bayern will need to push forward to break the deadlock and should be more vulnerable as a result. Should the Reds score, the pressure will certainly mount for the Germans,
Here are four findings from the match.
At times, it seemed like Liverpool would only be satisfied if they could have walked the ball across the goal line. While there were not real clear cut chances, the Reds repeatedly tantalized the crowd with the promise of scoring. It simply never came to pass.
All three forwards failed to find the finish at the end of decent opportunities. Mo Salah could not quite get enough on a ball over-the-top that fell right to Manuel Neuer. Sadio Mané had a few half chances that left him craving what might have been. Even Roberto Firmino, recovering from illness, suffered from some near misses. None of them found the net nor found the final ball.
The timing of Virgil van Dijk’s suspension was cause for concern. The Dutchman’s defensive presence has been imperious since becoming a Red. Given the injuries to Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez, the Reds were left without a single starting centre-half to partner Joel Matip.
Yet, Matip and especially Fabinho, were more than prepared to block Bayern’s attack. The Brazilian midfielder turned makeshift central defender put on a masterclass, pocketing European elite striker Robert Lewandowski. Also, both fullbacks overcame minor moments to put in proper shifts with and without the ball.
With Fabinho dropped deeper, the midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, and Naby Keita grafted, grinding the Germans through the middle of the pitch. All three strong performances provided the Reds with opportunities that ended with frustration going forward.
Keita continued his ascendancy with a first half that marked him possibly as Liverpool’s best player for a spell. Wijnaldum fought off a nagging knee problem to provide his typically reliable shift. Most impressive of all was captain Henderson who shielded the defence with several strong tackles to snuff Bayern’s attempts in attack.
Bavaria or Bust
In truth, a 0-0 draw is not the worst result for the Reds. While they can count themselves ever so unlucky not to be heading to Bavaria with a lead, they should enter the second leg with considerable confidence. The defensive difficulties in selection should not be an issue and that should also see the midfield benefit with Fabinho’s presence further forward.
Jurgen Klopp will like his chances of advancing in his homeland. Bayern will be without Joshua Kimmich, due to suspension, and the stage is set for his Reds to raid the Allianz Arena for at least one goal. Should Liverpool score first, Bayern will be forced to push forward with even greater urgency and be vulnerable on the break. Ultimately, the likelihood of the Reds being held goalless again is extremely doubtful.