Will Bayern Munich deny Liverpool progress in the Champions League?
Background image: JasonParis, CC BY 2.0
Niko Kovac arrived at Bayern Munich in the summer as more or less the chosen one. A former player at the Allianz Arena and an up-and-coming manager with a Bayern scalp and complementary DFB Pokal in his back pocket as Eintracht Frankfurt boss, the stars aligned in his favour. The club hierarchy and fanbase alike considered him a good fit to write the next chapter at FCB.
Although die Roten dominate the home front, winning the Bundesliga comfortably for the last six years, success on the continent is harder to come by. Jupp Heynckes conquered Europe in 2013 by beating Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund in a Wembley final of the continental showpiece and to cap a treble campaign. That achievement now seems like a distant memory.
Watching Real Madrid dominate the competition has been hard to take, especially when Los Blancos left Bayern in their wake on the way to a third successive final last year. Liverpool provided the biggest threat to the 13-time champions last term but even the Reds were brushed aside.
With history against Bayern and unfinished business in Europe, Klopp is a man on a mission this time around. The German is determined to go one better both in the Premier and Champions Leagues. His squad appears equal to the task as well. The side showed grit and determination to emerge from an extremely difficult group when they needed a victory against Carlo Ancelotti's Napoli to make it to the next round.
No longer in the hunt for the EFL or FA Cups, the Reds can focus on the most important competitions with time to spare. The gaffer is determined to come good in his third year in England after coming away from the first two emptyhanded. If last season's Champions League run is anything to go by, the Merseysiders will be a hard nut for the Bavarians to crack. Having learned from last season's disappointment, the side is better placed to make things happen.
That is definitely bad news for FC Hollywood. Kovac's side began the campaign uncharacteristically poorly but a recent upturn in form offers reason for optimism. Despite conceding league leadership to arch-rivals Dortmund all season, Lucien Favre's men are not out of sight. They closed the gap to two points with a hard-fought win over Augsburg on Friday. Dortmund's result against bottom side Nurnberg yesterday kept the gap within one result as the sluggish Yellow and Black limped away with a 0-0 draw.
Having won the league title for the last six seasons in a row, Bayern can afford to be less concerned about the Bundesliga when the Champions League continues to elude them. With the legendary tandem of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery confirming their retirement at season's end, there would be no better way to close out the campaign than with a celebration at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid on 1 June.
Klopp and Liverpool cannot afford to be so focussed. With an empty trophy cabinet, neither competition can be ruled out. For the Premier League leaders, it's desperation time.
Desperation, however, is a double-edged sword. One slip can have a ripple effect that produces negative consequences down the line. Pep Guardiola's Manchester City require just one loss from the Reds to upstage them in the title race.
In that sense, Liverpool is in a bad position. Moving forward, everything depends on their performance in the first leg at Anfield. Win convincingly and the pressure dissipates on both fronts. Lose or draw and the weight on their shoulders doubles. Doubt can creep in.
With the second leg to be contested at the Allianz Arena and Manchester City nipping at their heels in England, pressure is something Liverpool doesn't need.