Liverpool host Bayern Munich on Tuesday, in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie.
The sides haven’t met officially for 18 years, and even that was in a glorified friendly – the 2001 European Super Cup, which the Reds won 3-2 – so this is the first truly competitive meeting since the European Cup semi-final in 1981.
However, Liverpool did beat the German champions 3-0 at the Allianz Arena in the summer of 2017, in the Audi Cup. Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah and Daniel Sturridge got the goals, so the Reds shouldn’t be overawed by the task in front of them, even if that was just a pre-season match.
A look at the league tables from England and Germany would suggest Liverpool should be confident about the match too. Jürgen Klopp’s side have averaged 2.5 points per game, dropping points in just six of their 26 matches.
Bayern, by contrast, have failed to win seven of their first 21 matches, and trail Dortmund by five points.
The old cliché that ‘the table never lies’ may be out of place here, though, at least in Germany. A look under the bonnet at the underlying statistics paints a very different picture.
BAYERN NOT AS BAD AS THE TABLE SUGGESTS
Based on the expected goals from their matches, Niko Kovac’s team should be eight points clear at the top of the Bundesliga. Klopp won’t mind that his former side Dortmund are the beneficiaries of results not matching performances in Germany, but he will need to be wary of the fact Bayern’s current points tally is misleading.
That’s not to say the German champions haven’t also displayed weaknesses this season which Liverpool can hope to take advantage of.
For instance, Bayern Munich have conceded four league goals classed by Opta as being from counter-attacks. That may not sound like many, but as they only let in two in each of the last three seasons, it suggests they’re more susceptible to fast breaks than they have been in the past.
Only three teams in Germany have conceded more counter attack goals than Bayern, with just one in England letting in more. The Premier League team in question is Bournemouth, and Roberto Firmino should really have added to their tally in the final few minutes of Liverpool’s recent 3-0 win.
But it was also the latest example of how the Reds can generate opportunities on the counter. Just five teams across Europe’s big five leagues – England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – have had more shots on the break than Liverpool have in 2018/19. Bayern should beware.
PROBLEMS LATE ON
There’s also evidence FCB are flagging later in games, whether you look at simple goal stats or prefer more in-depth numbers.
Bayern have conceded a total of six goals in the final 15 minutes of their first 21 league games this season. You have to go back to 2009/10 to find a campaign where they conceded as many in the final quarter of an hour of games, and that was obviously from 34 matches rather than 21 too.
This increase doesn’t appear to be down to random chance either. Looking at the quality of shots Bayern have conceded when breaking matches down into 15 minute chunks, the highest average values per shot have been seen in the final quarter hours of each half.
Their figures for those quarter hours are higher than they have been in the corresponding 15 minutes in the last four seasons too. Is Bayern’s legendary but aging squad starting to creak a little too loudly? Kopites everywhere will hope so.
AT HOME FIRST: GOOD OR BAD OMEN?
For Liverpool, this tie is their 34th in the round of 16 in various European competitions over the last half century or so. They’ve qualified for the quarter-finals in 23 of the previous occasions, but how much of that has been down to the power of playing at home for the second leg?
Eleven of the Reds’ ties at this stage in Europe have kicked off under the Anfield lights, with the most recent example being the 2-0 victory over Manchester United in the 2015/16 Europa League. Liverpool have never lost a round of 16 first leg match on home turf, winning seven and drawing four.
From there, they reached the quarter-finals eight times and were knocked out on three occasions. The bad news for fans of omens is that one of those was against Bayern Munich in the 1971/72 European Cup Winners Cup, but I think we can agree that was too long ago to be of any true relevance here.
However, recent Champions League history suggests Liverpool will need to avoid defeat on Tuesday night if they are to progress.
There have been 40 round of 16 ties in the last 15 seasons where the away side triumphed, and there is just one instance of the defeated home side reaching the last eight of the competition.
In 2010/11, Inter Milan were beaten 1-0 by – you guessed it – Bayern Munich at the San Siro, thanks to a last minute goal from Mario Gomez. Eto’o, Sneijder and Pandev scored in Germany, though, to take the then reigning European Champions through to the quarter-finals.
Liverpool are very capable of exploiting Bayern’s weaknesses at Anfield on Tuesday, but avoiding defeat will likely be a key staging post on their route into the last eight.
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