Bayern Munich and Liverpool go toe-to-toe on a Bavarian battleground on Wednesday for a place in the quarter finals of this season’s Champions League.
After the lifeless 0-0 first leg draw at Anfield last month, both teams have a blank canvas on which to paint their continental futures, though Bayern come into Wednesday’s skirmish as slight favourites to progress at Liverpool’s expense.
The statistics say that 68% of the teams that drew 0-0 away from home in the first leg of a Champions League knockout tie have ended up progressing to the next round (21 out of 31), though Liverpool will be determined to buck the trend in Germany.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the most important individual duels that could play a key role in deciding the outcome of Bayern Munich’s tussle with Liverpool this week.
Rafinha vs Sadio Mane
Veteran Bayern Munich right-back Rafinha has enormous boots to fill on Wednesday. In the absence of the suspended Joshua Kimmich, Rafinha will slot in to Bayern’s defence to replace a defender who is arguably the best player in his position in world football.
The 33-year old Brazilian made Bayern’s starting XI in just 3 of the Bavarians’ 7 Champions League fixtures so far this season, and Rafinha came on as a 91st minute substitute in Munich’s Last 16 first leg tie at Anfield last month.
This week, Rafinha will be tasked with tracking the explosive moment of Sadio Mane. Having scored 8 goals in his last 8 appearances for Liverpool, Mane comes into Wednesday’s Champions League clash in red-hot form.
Liverpool will be hoping that Mane’s searing pace can cause problems for Bayern’s stand-in right back, and Rafinha is almost certain to be given the run-around if he is left too exposed.
Thiago Alcantara vs Jordan Henderson
Bayern Munich’s distribution metronome Thiago Alcantara is the conduit that the majority of Bayern’s passing moves flow through.
The Spanish international (when he’s fit) is routinely one of Die Roten’s standout performers and his ability to knit play together is invaluable for the German champions.
One of Liverpool midfield workhorse Jordan Henderson’s main jobs on Wednesday will be limiting Thiago’s impact on proceedings at the Allianz Arena.
The less time Alcantara is afforded in possession, the less likely he is to carve open the visitor’s defence with his pinpoint passes.
Henderson has made more interceptions on average (1.6) than any other Liverpool player in this season’s Champions League, and the England international will need to maintain those averages to curb Thiago’s creativity this week.
James Rodriguez vs Fabinho
James Rodriguez and Fabinho were teammates for a year at Monaco in France during the 2013/14 season, though the ex-comrades will stand on either side of the dividing line at the Allianz Arena later this week.
Colombian international Rodriguez is the very definition of an enigmatic footballer, though his imagination with the ball still makes him one of Bayern’s most threatening players.
Rodriguez ranks top of the list at Bayern for average key passes played per game (2.5) in the Bundesliga this season, and the 27-year old is tied for first place in that metric with Joshua Kimmich (2.3) in the Champions League.
Having trained and played with Rodriguez on numerous occasions, Liverpool’s midfield anchorman Fabinho will know the Colombian’s game inside and out.
The Brazilian ranks 2nd and 3rd in the Premier and Champions League respectively for Liverpool this season for average tackles made per game, and the Reds will hope that Fabinho’s possession recovery skills are just as sharp again on Wednesday.
Robert Lewandowski vs Virgil van Dijk
Legendary Polish centre-forward Robert Lewandowski remains one of Europe’s most prolific goal-scorers. The 30-year old has scored 17 times in 24 Bundesliga appearances this season and his Champions League record for 2018/19 so far stands at an incredible 8 goals in 7 games.
Like all players of his ilk, Lewandowski thrives on quality service, and the former Dortmund star will certainly miss the delivery of Joshua Kimmich this week, who has provided the ammunition for almost a quarter of his league goals this season.
Not many players get the better of Liverpool’s imperious centre-half Virgil van Dijk however, and the giant Dutchman kept Lewandowski uncharacteristically quiet at Anfield last month.
Lewandowski registered just 1 shot at goal on Merseyside – it was only the 4th time this season that the Polish international failed to rack up 2 or more attempts in a fixture. If van Dijk can keep Lewandowski on the periphery of the game again this week, Liverpool’s chances of progressing to the next round of the Champions League will substantially increase.
David Alaba vs Mohamed Salah
In one of the many flat individual attacking performances of the first leg, Mohamed Salah got no change out of Bayern Munich’s accomplished left-back David Alaba at Anfield last month.
The well-matched pair renew acquaintances on Wednesday in one of the most intriguing head-to-head battles of the night.
Incidentally, along with sharing a few letters in their surnames, both Alaba and Salah were born in June 1992. In fact, the players’ birthdays are separated by just 9 days, with Salah born on June 15th the older of the two, and Alaba born on June 24th.
Alaba has missed just 1 of Bayern Munich’s 7 Champions League games this season, while Salah has been an ever-present in the competition for Liverpool.
The players are equals in terms of physical attributes, though in a role reversal of sorts, Salah will have to watch out for Alaba’s surging forward runs down the Bayern left. The Austrian tops Bayern’s list for Champions League assists this season alongside Joshua Kimmich (2).