Tuesday night’s stalemate with Liverpool, earned over 90 minutes of gruelling concentration, certainly felt like a mini-victory for Niko Kovac’s Bayern.
‘What was that about Bayern being in crisis?’ chirped the sports pages in Bild on Wednesday morning, lavishing praise on Bayern for a surprisingly solid performance.
Franck Ribery (left) and David Alaba arrive at John Lennon Airport after drawing with Liverpool
Bayern Munich boss Niko Kovac (left) and Joshua Kimmich prepare to board their flight
THE SECOND LEG
Date: March 13
Kick-off time: 8pm
Venue: Allianz Arena
‘Kovac had a plan, and his players followed him,’ wrote Germany’s biggest newspaper. ‘Bayern haven’t looked that compact and disciplined in a long time.’
‘Thanks to a courageous performance, Bayern go into the second leg in a good position,’ wrote Munich newspaper TZ.
The sense of relief in Germany is palpable. Bayern are by no means through yet, but there was a genuine fear among many fans of German football that this Champions League round of 16 could turn into a bit of a horror show.
Schalke are expected to be blown away by Manchester City, and after Borussia Dortmund’s collapse against Tottenham last week, Bayern were once again the last hope. Yet many feared that they too would be rolled over by a formidable Liverpool attack.
Instead, Bayern picked a good moment to pull out their best defensive performance this season.
Javi Martinez was a towering presence, Mats Hummels returned to his previous, astonishing levels of precision and Serge Gnabry looked dangerous going forward.
Bayern’s players salute their travelling fans after battling to a 0-0 draw at Anfield on Tuesday
The German giants frustrated Mohamed Salah and his team-mates during the first leg
Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer played better than he has all season as those in front of him ground out a competitive result, albeit one that leaves the tie on a knife edge.
‘Everyone pulled together at the back, and perhaps that’s why we lacked something going forward,’ Neuer told kicker, bemoaning his side’s failure to score an away goal.
‘I’m not unhappy with the result, but you always want to get an away goal in the in knockout ties. We are strong at home, but I don’t think anyone has an advantage going into the second leg.’
Neuer is never one to overstate the positives, but he is right to be wary. If Bayern have home advantage and a growing sense of confidence to help them in the second leg, the result alone gives Liverpool the edge. If Jurgen Klopp’s team score, then they will only need to draw.
Klopp, for his part, insisted that Liverpool can go to Munich and ‘hurt Bayern’. His record in the knockout stages of the Champions League bodes well, and while Kovac is also something of a cup specialist, his lack of experience in this competition may yet prove a weakness.
Bayern Munich’s travelling fans hold scarves and wave flags after the full-time whistle
Joshua Kimmich holds off winger Sadio Mane during the Champions League last-16 first leg
Effectively in need of a win, Bayern will need to be braver going forward than they were at Anfield.
They will need to be more incisive against a Liverpool defence which, with the return of Virgil van Dijk, will be considerably stronger than the one which lined up on Tuesday.
That full-strength back line, coupled with Liverpool’s devastating potential on the counter-attack, is a sobering prospect for Bayern, particularly with right back Joshua Kimmich set to miss the second leg.
Yet Bayern also have the return of key players to look forward to, with Leon Goretzka and Arjen Robben possibly being back from injury by mid-march.
Kovac gestures on the touchline during his side’s draw, which felt like a win according to Bild
Thomas Muller, who will be suspended for the second leg after also missing Tuesday night’s tie, outlined Bayern’s plan to beat Liverpool at home.
‘We will need to control the ball, otherwise they will come at us like a wave,’ he told TZ.
‘We need periods in possession in order to stop the counter-attacks, which are their biggest weapon.’
The respect for Liverpool remains enormous, and nobody in Munich would say that Bayern are favourites. Yet having survived Anfield, there is at least the sense that Bayern have their fate in their own hands.
‘This 0-0 feels like a win for Kovac,’ wrote Bild. ‘Now they just need to avoid getting cocky.’