Liverpool vs Bayern: Misfiring Sadio Mane draws a blank but Jordan Henderson impresses

Five things we learned: Anfield sees a goalless draw that neither side will be happy or unhappy with going into the second leg

Mark Critchley
Tuesday 19 February 2019 22:52
UEFA Champions League round of 16 draw

A result to be neither happy or unhappy with

A strange game ended in a strange result that neither side will be happy nor unhappy with. Liverpool perhaps edged the contest on the balance of play, with Bayern Munich creating little in the way of clear-cut chances.

Yet wasteful finishing from Jürgen Klopp's unusually off-key front three meant they were ultimately unable to edge ahead on aggregate, ahead of next month's return leg at the Allianz Arena.

Liverpool will look back to Sadio Mané’s first-half miss, when turning to shoot after Naby Keita’s attempt was blocked, and wonder whether that was the moment this game could have been won.

Equally, they might think back to the nervy opening stages, when Bayern could easily have capitalised on their sloppiness at the back and punished mistakes by either Andrew Robertson, Joel Matip or Alisson.

As the game went on, Bayern appeared more and more content with a goalless draw and denying Liverpool a home win. That confidence could ultimately be misplaced. 0-0 is not necessarily a good result away from home in this competition.

One away goal in Munich would change the complexion of this tie, but Klopp will nevertheless see this as a missed opportunity. His frontline cannot again misfire in Munich or they will be left with just the league title to focus on.

No Van Dijk, no chill

The last time Klopp’s side were without Virgil van Dijk in a game of this magnitude, they produced one of their finest performances of his time in charge, beating Manchester City 4-3 in the Premier League last year.

That victory, significant as it was, did not come without moments of anxiety and apprehension at the back and so it was here, especially during a frantic and frenetic start to the evening.

Whether it was Alisson picking out the wrong pass, Matip struggling in possession or Robertson’s under-hit header, Liverpool made enough mistakes in the opening half hour to make Van Dijk’s absence felt.

Klopp’s backline settled down as the tempo of the game eased too and Fabinho, Van Dijk's makeshift replacement, coped well in an unfamiliar position.

But Liverpool never had the confidence and assurance that Van Dijk typically brings. He will return for the second leg, and Bayern may live to regret not exposing a defence that looked unsure of itself.

Henderson answers his critics with vision and control

Despite eight years of service, five as captain, Jordan Henderson still has plenty of detractors around Anfield. Their criticisms are sometimes valid, sometimes not, but few could have taken issue with his display here.

For a player whose passing ability is regularly questioned, he produced a handful of incisive defence-splitting balls. The first was the best of them, a raking Hollywood pass that his predecessor as captain used to specialise in. Salah could not convert it.

But arguably his most important contribution was a defensive one. When communication lines broke down between Keita and Mané, sending a pass back towards Liverpool’s goal for Bayern to run on to, Henderson sprinted back in double-quick time to kill the danger.

He is not always this mindful, does not always show this such vision with his passing and there are undoubtedly better holding midfielders out there, but Henderson is still trusted by Klopp to marshal Liverpool’s midfield on occasions like this and his performance here showed why.

Lewandowski isolated

Dietmar Hamann, formerly of both these clubs, does not have such a high opinion of Robert Lewandowski. Hamann recently described the Pole as a “problem”, due to his “theatrics”, “gestures” and “demeanour”. He is a “lone wolf” who rarely plays for team-mates, apparently.

This was the same Lewandowski who has not only scored 25 goals in all competitions for Bayern this season, but also already set up 11 for his team-mates, having only previously set up a maximum of 13 in a whole campaign.

Hamann’s comments seemed off the mark - and Lewandowski himself described them as “flat-out stupid” - but maybe they were made as more of a premonition.

The Pole's performance was far from an all-scoring and all-assisting tour de force. He was instead an isolated figure throughout, struggling to combine and interlink with the band of attacking midfielders behind him.

Against the untested central defensive partnership of Matip and Fabinho, more was expected. The lone wolf will have to lick his wounds and try again in Bavaria.

European adventure simply not the priority

Any report from Anfield on a evening like this must make an obligatory mention of the phrase ‘famous European nights’ and nod to the atmosphere on the Kop.

And though the old ground lived up to its reputation in opening stages at least, you could not help but feel this club was a little preoccupied.

The affinity and history between Liverpool and the European Cup usually make evenings like this the most memorable in a standard season at Anfield, but this is not a standard season.

Hopes that the long wait for a domestic league title will end in its 29th year are realistic. The Premier League, unquestionably, is the priority. This was not even the most important game of Liverpool's week.

This fact coloured the evening differently. Of course, a sixth European Cup would be a fantastic achievement but it would not be quite the same blood-letting exercise as a 19th league title.

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