Klopp squeezes the life out of Bayern as innovative wide attacks provide cutting edge
After drawing 0-0 against Bayern Munich in the first leg, Liverpool travelled to Allianz Arena to take on the Bavarian giants in a highly-anticipated Champions League match. Bayern have just recently overtaken Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga table on goal difference, while Liverpool sit one point behind first placed Manchester City in the chase for the Premier League title.
While the first match was a bit of a disappointment for the Reds attack, this second leg would be far improved as Liverpool went on to win 3-1, successfully executing and administering a number of tactical stratagems.
The hosts were on a high after winning five consecutive league matches, including a 6-0 demolition of Wolfsburg and an impressive 5-1 win away from home against renowned Bayern-killers Borussia Monchengladbach. The deep midfield pair of Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez started both those lopsided victories, and thus were the central ball-playing cogs for Bayern against Liverpool.
With right-back Joshua Kimmich suspended for the second leg, Rafinha started in his place. James Rodriguez, along with wingers Serge Gnabry and Franck Ribery were hoping they could give Robert Lewandowski more service than the limited touches the Polish striker received in the first leg.
Liverpool travelled to Germany without midfielder Naby Keita, who stayed back in England due to injury. Virgil van Dijk returned to the starting back line after his first-leg ban. Fabinho, to the surprise of many, began the match on the bench but was shortly subbed on in the 13thminute after Jordan Henderson’s ankle injury was reaggravated.
The front three started as usual, coming into the match in a mix of individual forms. Sadio Mane scored a brace in two of his last three matches, and Roberto Firmino also notched a brace in his last match. Mohamed Salah had not scored nor assisted in his last five, however.
As was somewhat expected, Bayern began controlling possession. Liverpool defended in a medium block, with the front three and an alternating wide midfielder pressing Bayern’s back two lines. Liverpool didn’t allow Bayern to settle in possession centrally around the final third, and this made Bayern uncomfortable.
This was a classic counter-press by Liverpool early in the match. Notice Georginio Wijnaldum pressing nearly as high up the pitch as the front three. Also notice Salah’s pressing run angle and body shape contorted to attempt to block off the passing lane on Hummels’ left; a vital concept of gegenpressing.
This press, though often executed more centrally on the pitch, successfully diminished Bayern’s attacking threat. To go up against a team that had a goal difference of 11-1 in their past two games and limit them to only an own goal is an impressive feat. Even still Jurgen Klopp is well known for taking away the strong suits of even the best sides in Europe.
Arguably the areas where Bayern had the biggest advantage in the first leg were in the forward wide areas, and this return match was no different. Due to the high pressing of Wijnaldum on Bayern’s left side, Ribery found ample space further down that touch line.
Right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold did an good job overall at halting Ribery. He was dribbled past once, but he was able to make a total of five interceptions, more than anyone else on the pitch, and was at least able to contain the Frenchman long enough for Salah to track back and help win back possession.
On the other side, Andrew Robertson had trouble holding back Gnabry. The German’s speed often intimidated the Scotsman, which eventually resulted in a Liverpool own goal created by Gnabry.
Ultimately however, Liverpool were able to stop most passes into the box or to Lewandowski thanks to excellent defensive work from Van Dijk, Joel Matip and Fabinho. These three made a number of individual defensive plays on the ball.
These disruptions not only prevented Lewandowski from touching the ball, but they often shifted into counter-attacks by Liverpool.
After Salah and Mane had begun the match on the left and right sides of the pitch respectively, they swapped back after about 15 minutes. Liverpool primarily attacked through the wide areas, through their usual pressing or quick long balls.
The second half saw Liverpool’s attack bolden, with a willingness to counter-attack more aggressively. As has often been a theme this season when Mane succeeds, Salah drew multiple defenders towards himself, freeing up Mane to attack in more open space.
Mane scored a brace for the fifth time this season, tallying a ridiculous six goals in his last four matches. Liverpool’s attack may be returning to form just in time for a long-winded back stretch of the season.
“I have to congratulate Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool. They were clearly the better side over the two games.” -Niko Kovac
In what initially began as an even, tactically cautious match, Liverpool took advantage through the wide areas and ran with it. The extremely organised pressing and individual brilliance from the Reds not only contained but also outwitted Bayern. The Bavarians were held to a meagre 0.26 xG at home.
Bayern still have the Bundesliga and the DFB Pokal to play for, and manager Niko Kovac will make sure to succeed in both if he does not want to be sacked by an impatient club board. Liverpool also have a league title to fight for, and this victory will give a major boost to the confidence of a team that saw form dip in January and February. Manchester City also advanced in their own Champions League tie, throwing fuel to the fire of what is becoming a brilliant rivalry.
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