Sometimes in European football the first leg tie is a mere scene-setter, whetting the appetite for the return and largely forgotten once the eventual outcome is decided.
A goalless stalemate between Liverpool and Bayern Munich, though absorbing throughout and relentlessly nerve-wracking, failed to produce the signature moment to create a lasting memory on a rainy Merseyside night.
Despite pressing domestic matters the Liverpool populace cannot shake its affection and hunger for this competition. Forays into Europe dating back to the 1960s have defined the modern fan culture which sets Anfield aside from other English grounds and all of that tradition was on show for the visit of Germany’s finest.
Anfield on a European night, under the lights, has become something of a cliché but the phenomenon resides in truth. Before kick-off the ground was a sight to behold; festooned with colour, The Kop awash with perhaps more gigantic flags than ever.
The famous end might not be the oceanic, swaying mass of old but it remains the crimson altar of Liverpool’s lavishly decorated church.
At the front of the Kop, amid the swirling wavers, and adding to the sense of occasion was the famous ode to cult hero, Joey Jones. “Joey ate the Frogs Legs, Made the Swiss roll, Now he’s Munchen Gladbach”. Maybe the most iconic Liverpool banner of all, synonymous with the epic tale of Rome ’77, restored to full health and on display at the grand old age of 42. Jurgen Klopp and Mohammed Salah might be today’s heroes but such a nod to terrace history is a reminder that managers and players are just passing through.
For once, the Reds were unable to harness the urgings of the crowd in the first half. Despite starting at the tempo which blew Manchester City and Roma apart here last season, Liverpool found the Bayern defence in obdurate mood. An early chance for Salah, latching on to Jordan Henderson’s raking pass, was smothered by Manuel Neuer’s catch and other intricate moves around the Bayern box saw a flick too many, a backheel too ambitious, a cross too far.
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At the other end, under the shadow of the Kop, Alisson twice gave the crowd an attack of the heebie jeebies by hesitating too long in possession. The keeper atoned soon after, somewhat inadvertently being in the right place to parry with his chest from Joel Matip’s skewed attempt to clear a cross.
The Reds’ response saw Sadio Mane flash a shot wide and Salah miss the target with a header at the far post. Mane was then guilty of a more glaring miss when Naby Keita’s shot was deflected into his path in front of goal. From the Kop he looked certain to score but an unbalanced swivel and scuffed attempt saw the chance go begging. Keita’s ambitious overhead kick from another deflected block and Matip’s prod wide from Andy Robertson’s cross added to the crowd’s growing frustration.
Having shown some ambition in the first half, Bayern dug in and became more entrenched in the second period.
Their own fans, a bouncing, flag-waving spectacle all night, revealed supportive protest banners against rising ticket prices, which drew predictable applause from Liverpool supporters.
By this time, Liverpool looked short of ideas, despite the promptings and aggression of Henderson.
Unlike so many of the heralded European names who have withered at Anfield, Bayern – replete with experience – appeared to revel in the atmosphere and thrive on their increasing zeal to repel the best efforts of Liverpool to break them down. Reminding of their own threat and that dreaded thought of an away goal, Serge Gnabry’s pile-driver which whistled inches over the bar drew a collective sigh of relief from all corners.
The last significant act of the night was Neuer’s save at the near post from Mane’s glancing header amid the flying boots. What had started off as a raucous affair had gradually petered out and hundreds starting heading for the exits before four minutes of added time. Bayern had progressively drawn the sting from the crowd in tune with their eventual snaffling of Liverpool’s initial vim and vigour.
At the final whistle the Germans loitered to acknowledge their followers, keen not to appear too smug but sufficiently buoyant among their own to reveal a sense of them now holding the upper hand. Liverpool and their fans will console themselves that the same scoreline between the clubs in 1981 was the prelude to an epic success on away turf.
The Allianz Arena will now witness the unfolding of this drama, and if Liverpool can emerge victorious, this evening can be viewed merely as the prologue.
*Odds are subject to change.