Hello. Should Liverpool lose this game? It’s an interesting thought, sort of, although be careful about putting it to Jurgen Klopp. “I don’t think any other coach has to answer this question,” Klopp said yesterday. “It only happens if you’re Liverpool manager and the pundits come from Manchester United.” Oof! Someone please check on Gary Neville, the Manchester United pundit in question, as he’s the one who initially floated the idea that Liverpool should blow the Champions League in order to focus on winning their first league title since 1990. Yes, you can see where the former United defender’s coming from. It may well help Liverpool if Manchester City are the ones with the fixture pile-up, leaving Klopp’s side to reserve all their energy on the Premier League. But let’s be honest: Neville, top Red that he is, simply doesn’t want Liverpool to win anything at all. What’s next? Don’t win the Premier League because no one retains the title any more? Don’t listen to him, Jurgen!
In any case how does it work? How can you expect Liverpool to travel to Bayern Munich for the second leg of a Champions League last-16 tie, with the tie delicately poised at 0-0 after the first leg, and not give their all in front of supporters who have given up so much time and money to travel to Germany? And why would you want to focus so much on one competition when history shows it actually is possible to win more than one trophy in a single season? Put it this way, how would Neville have reacted in 1999 if Peter Schmeichel had decided there was no point saving Dennis Bergkamp’s penalty in the last minute of the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal at Villa Park? United were down to 10 men for crying out loud! Keeping it out meant they had to go another 30 minutes in extra-time! A week before a European Cup semi-final against the mighty Juventus! Just let him score!
No, it doesn’t work that way, so we can probably expect Liverpool to be dialled in at the Allianz Arena this evening. Whether that’s good enough to take them into the last eight remains to be seen, of course, but it surely won’t be down to a lack of desire if they lose to a Bayern side who have regained some of their damaged aura in recent weeks. Bayern were solid at Anfield last month and, after a tricky start to the season, Niko Kovac’s side have climbed above Borussia Dortmund at the top of the Bundesliga. They know what to do at the highest level in Europe, whereas Liverpool are still establishing themselves under Klopp, and have more than enough ways of scoring enough goals to reach another quarter-final – to put it into context, Bayern warmed up for this one with a thumping victories over Wolfsburg and Borussia Monchengladbach.
Throw Liverpool’s unconvincing away form into the mix and you’ve got compelling reasons to back Bayern. Liverpool have lost their last five away games in Europe, a run that stretches back to their victory over City in last season’s quarter-final, and haven’t won away from home in the league since beating Brighton 1-0 on 12 January, since when they’ve drawn 1-1 with West Ham and 0-0 with Everton and United. On the other hand they know a score draw here takes them through, just as it did when they faced Bayern in the semi-finals in 1981. They don’t have to go goal crazy. They can rely on their stingy defence, which will be bolstered by Virgil van Dijk’s return from suspension, and trust that they have enough pace in attack to worry Bayern on the break, all of which is a long way of saying that this could go either way. Your guess is as good as mine. It’s too tight to call. All we really know is that it should be a fascinating occasion.
Kick-off: 8pm GMT, 9pm in Munich.