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Anti-climax at Anfield but Reds will be a different beast away to Bayern Munich

Liverpool verdict - Anti-climax at Anfield but Reds will be a different beast away to Bayern Munich
James Pearce gives his verdict on a frustrating Champions League night for Liverpool - but the Reds' European dream is far from over

By James Pearce
11:25, 20 FEB 2019

James Pearce reacts to Liverpool's 0-0 draw with Bayern

It was a frustrating evening for Liverpool at Anfield last night, as a stubborn Bayern Munich side secured a 0-0 draw to take back to the Allianz Arena in the Champions League. But with the Reds keeping Bayern's attack quiet and denying the visitors a precious away goal, the heavyweight European encounter remains finely poised. James Pearce gives his verdict on how the 90 minutes played out, picks his man of the match and assesses the balance of the tie after the first leg...

Talk about a damp squib. A sense of anti-climax hung over Anfield at the final whistle.

An eagerly anticipated showdown between two genuine European heavyweights had concluded without either of them landing a single punch of any note.
Liverpool's journey into the knockout stages of the Champions League got under way with an instantly forgettable 90 minutes against Bayern Munich.
Rather than delivering a show of force after a 10-day break, the disjointed Reds were a million miles away from their sparkling best.

Bayern had arrived intent on stifling Jurgen Klopp's side and their mission was accomplished with a minimum of fuss.

The German champions have had their problems domestically this season but here was a reminder about their wealth of European experience. They simply refused to be knocked out of their stride by the Anfield cauldron.
Defensively, they did a job on the Reds as they sat deep and comfortably dealt with everything the hosts threw at them.
There was no late cavalry charge from Liverpool, who were desperately lacking in spark and guile in the final third as they mustered just two attempts on target all night.
Frustrating? Undoubtedly. Damaging? No.

There's no reason for Liverpool to fear the return leg at the Allianz Arena on March 13 as Klopp looks to extend his 100% record in two-legged European ties during his Anfield reign.
Yes, Bayern have only lost two of their past 26 home games in the Champions League but the Reds don't need to win in Bavaria.
A score draw would secure their progress to the quarter-finals and the dynamic will be different in the away leg.

For a starter, Klopp will have defensive talisman Virgil van Dijk back available after suspension. Bayern will also have to show more attacking intent on home turf and that should leave Liverpool with space to exploit on the counter.
After a night when the spotlight will inevitably fall on the Reds' shortcomings in the final third, the value of keeping a clean sheet shouldn't be overlooked.

Robert Lewandowski, the top scorer in the Champions League this season, barely had a kick as Fabinho excelled alongside Joel Matip in a makeshift centre-back partnership.
Time and time again Fabinho was in the right place at the right time to make important tackles and blocks.

In front of him, captain Jordan Henderson delivered his best performance of the campaign as he stamped his authority on proceedings. However, attacking fluency was conspicuous by its absence.
It was hardly the perfect start to a pivotal week as the focus shifts to Sunday's Premier League showdown at Old Trafford.
However, with Van Dijk back and Fabinho restored to the midfield, it will be a different Liverpool that walks out to face Manchester United.

An expectant Anfield was bouncing before kick-off as a rousing rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' drowned out the Champions League anthem.

The stage looked set for Liverpool to fly out of the traps and feed off that energy from the stands, but it didn't happen.

Uncertainty ruled as Klopp's side looked nervy and caused problems for themselves by being so sloppy in possession.
Alisson Becker's touch repeatedly let him down and his distribution left plenty to be desired. That bout of the jitters seemed to spread through the backline.

The absence of Van Dijk was keenly felt early on as Liverpool's backline lacked leadership and organisation. That was epitomised by the sight of Alisson and Fabinho colliding after both trying to deal with Serge Gnabry's cross.
Liverpool seemed strangely reluctant to hassle and harry Bayern's backline, who were far too comfortable for the opening quarter of the contest.

Henderson shone on his return to the side. His passing was of the highest calibre and off the ball he worked tirelessly to shut down space and win back possession.
The Reds skipper picked out Mohamed Salah but he could only guide his volley into the arms of Manuel Neuer.
Bayern countered dangerously with Alisson producing a crucial block to stop Matip from inadvertently putting Gnabry's cross into his own net.

There was another let-off when Alisson gave Matip a pass he didn't want and the centre-back gave it away cheaply. Anfield breathed a collective sigh of relief as Kingsley Coman fired into the side netting.
Liverpool were crying out for more composure, better decision making and a quicker tempo in the final third and belatedly it arrived.

Finally, the hosts started to really stretch Bayern's backline with some slick interplay around the box.
Right-back Joshua Kimmich picked up a yellow card for chopping down Mane which rules him out of the second leg.

The front three flickered into life and Naby Keita started to showcase his growing confidence as he surged forward with real intent.
Salah went close with a header before Mane scuffed wastefully wide after Keita's strike had deflected into his path off Niklas Sule.

Roberto Firmino started to drag Bayern's defenders into areas they didn't want to be in. The Reds' No 9 latched on to Salah's backheel but his cross was turned wide by Matip.
Henderson continued to lead by example as he dashed back to dispossess Gnabry and put Liverpool on the front foot again.

Just before the break Firmino connected with Trent Alexander-Arnold's inviting delivery but he couldn't get enough on it to beat Neuer.
The interval came at a bad time for Liverpool as it dented their momentum. They struggled to get going again after the restart.

Fabinho could hold his head high. How Liverpool have been indebted to his versatility since the turn of the year.
Injuries would have had a much greater impact without Fabinho stepping up and filling the void. He made a vital tackle to stop Lewandowski from converting Coman's pass.

Bayern were rarely troubled in the second half as they soaked up what little pressure there was and then broke away in search of a priceless away goal. Gnabry, who was a real handful down the right flank, went close with a sweetly struck 25-yarder.
Applause from all four sides of Anfield greeted the sight of Bayern supporters holding up banners in protest at Champions League ticket prices. One declared 'Twenty is plenty'.

On the field, there wasn't much to send pulses racing. Salah threatened to make the difference when he darted into the penalty area and held off David Alaba but he ended up running into Gini Wijnaldum before he could pull the trigger.

At the other end the impressive Fabinho came to the rescue once again with a perfectly timed challenge on Coman.

Klopp sought fresh legs as James Milner and Divock Origi replaced Keita and Firmino. Strangely, considering that Liverpool were crying out for a bit of inspiration in the final third, Xherdan Shaqiri remained rooted to the bench against his former club.
Mane's diving header was kept out by Neuer as the breakthrough Liverpool craved eluded them.

Bayern celebrated their draw but the Reds' European dream remains very much alive.

MATCH FACTS

Liverpool: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Fabinho, Robertson, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Keita (Milner 76), Salah, Firmino (Origi 76), Mane.
Not used: Mignolet, Sturridge, Moreno, Lallana, Shaqiri.

Bayern: Neuer, Kimmich, Sule, Hummels, Alaba, Thiago, Martinez, Rodriguez (Sanches 88), Gnabry (Rafinha 90), Lewandowski, Coman (Ribery 81).
Not used: Ulreich, Davies, Mai, Shabani.

Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)
Goals: none
Bookings: Henderson, Kimmich
Man of the match: Jordan Henderson. A real captain's performance.

---

By Ian Doyle Liverpool reporter
10:30, 21 FEB 2019
Sport

Liverpool were frustrated in their attempts to defeat Bayern Munich in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 clash on Tuesday night.
The Reds will travel to the Allianz Arena next month having so far failed to break down a stubborn Bayern defence - but also crucially having denied their German opponents an away goal at Anfield.

Bayern may have been the happier team after the 0-0 draw, knowing that any win in Germany takes them through to the next round.
But Jurgen Klopp said it was "not a dream result but a good one" from a Liverpool perspective, with all to play for on March 13.

Here is how the Reds players rated last night...

Alisson Becker 5
In the right place to make a point-blank save from his own player Matip, but was unconvincing first half with the ball at his feet. Quiet after the break.

Trent Alexander-Arnold 6
Few attacking opportunities before the interval, save one good cross created a chance for Salah. More involved second half but kept honest by the lively Coman.

Fabinho 7
Up against Lewandowski, the makeshift centre-back didn't win everything, particularly in the air, but put in a fine shift and made one excellent tackle inside the area.

Joel Matip 7
Almost scored at both ends, and was dodgy when dealing with one Alisson pass. Otherwise can be content with his efforts. Needs to work on his shooting, however.

Andy Robertson 6
Found it difficult defensively at times up against Gnabry, and his deliveries in the attacking third were not of their usual standard. Improved second half.

Jordan Henderson 8
Led by example with a fine display. Played one excellent ball through to Salah first half and was a driving force, while some of his tackling got the crowd going. Booked.

Gini Wijnaldum 6
Started brightly but his influence waned in a congested midfield. Didn't stop putting in the hard yards, but a bit more imagination was required.

Naby Keita 7
Warmed to his task, a few good first-half touches created openings and got about the pitch well. However, his decision-making is still not quite there yet. Subbed.

Mohamed Salah 6
Saw a stretching volley held by Neuer but should have done better with a far-post header first half. Didn't stop going forward and was always a danger but was often hounded out.

Roberto Firmino 7
Seemed to have at least three Bayern players around him at all times, but came into it before the break with some clever passes. Work-rate impressive given his pre-match illness. Substituted.

Sadio Mane 7
Missed a great chance on the turn and sent an overhead kick over. Needed to be in the game more in the second half, especially with Kimmich on a booking. Forced a save from Neuer with a header.

Substitutes

James Milner (for Keita 76) 6
Made a few tackles.

Divock Origi (for Firmino 76) 5
Rolled the ball out of play once.

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

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