Liverpoool vs Bayern Munich: A good year to face the Bundesliga side in the Champions League?
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 17/02/19 8:28pm
Liverpool have only faced Bayern Munich once in European competition since 1981. As they prepare to meet again in the Champions League on Tuesday, James Walker-Roberts looks at whether this is a good year to be facing the German club…
"Mia San Mia". Bayern Munich's club motto translates as "we are who we are".
But who are Bayern Munich at the moment?
They have won the Bundesliga for the last six seasons in a row and have reached at least the semi-finals of the Champions League in five of those seasons. However, ahead of their Champions League last-16 clash with Liverpool, they appear to be a club in transition.
Their current league position tells some of the story.
They are two points behind leaders Borussia Dortmund, having played a game more. At this stage of all of the last six seasons they have been at least five points clear at the top. In three of those seasons they were 19, 18 and 15 points clear.
Dortmund have been excellent, losing only one game so far, but Bayern have already lost as many games (4) as they did in the 2017/18 season. In the two previous seasons they lost only twice in the league.
They have also conceded 34 goals in all competitions, their highest total at this stage of the season since 2010/11.
And the Bundesliga side have absentees ahead of facing Liverpool.
Thomas Muller is suspended for both legs, Arjen Robben has not played since November, Franck Ribery has recently returned from injury, and Corentin Tolisso is out. Kingsley Coman, who head coach Niko Kovac says provides Bayern with a "very different dynamic", is also an injury doubt after scoring twice in a 3-2 win over struggling Augsburg on Friday.
Then there's the defence.
Bayern have not kept a clean sheet in 2019 and Bayer Leverkusen recently beat them 3-1, with their high pressing and quick tempo causing problems for Kovac's side.
Centre-back Mats Hummels' level has dropped and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer only recently returned from a hand injury and has not been at his best this season. Of 13 goalkeepers to have played at least 20 Bundesliga games this season, Neuer has the lowest save percentage. Among that group of 13, WhoScored give Neuer their lowest average rating for the season.
Even Robben admitted earlier this year that this was "perhaps the worst possible draw" for Bayern.
Robben is set to leave the club in the summer along with long-time wing-mate Ribery. The departure of the 35-year-old duo will help bring down the average age of a squad that German broadcaster Deutsche Welle has called "slightly stale".
That's highlighted by the fact only three teams in the group stages of the Champions League fielded an older average starting XI than Bayern Munich. In the Bundesliga, Bayern have the oldest average age this season (27 years and 326 days).
Unlike some of the other top clubs around Europe, Bayern have been reluctant to spend big to solve their problems. In the 2017 summer transfer window, when Paris Saint-Germain signed Neymar for £200m, Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness said: "In my opinion there is no player in the world worth 100 million euro. I do not want to buy a player for 100m euro even if I had the money. That would be too much of a waste of money."
Rather than turn to the transfer market, Bayern are partly looking to their £64.1m youth academy to provide some solutions. Club chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said at the opening of the academy in 2017 that it was hoped they could produce "a player every year for the first team".
Hoeness added: "I am convinced that we can give the right answer to the development of international football, to the whole transfer madness and the exploding salaries."
The academy hasn't solved anything yet - nor has it produced a first-team player for several years - and Bayern have actually started to look to the MLS instead. Alphonso Davies joined in a record-breaking MLS deal as a 17-year-old last year and 18-year-old defender Chris Richards has signed from FC Dallas, who Bayern have formed a partnership with at youth academy level.
While Tottenham have shown that it's not essential to make signings to have a successful season, Bayern's squad has needed freshening up for a while. And the time might be coming when they do loosen the purse strings.
"The day is coming when we will have to buy again," said Hoeness recently. "We want to promote players from our youth teams and also now and again sign an expensive player. That's the way we want to go."
There have been reports that Atletico Madrid defender Lucas Hernandez is set to join Bayern in a deal worth around £70m. Bayern might also continue their pursuit of Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi, while Muller has suggested RB Leipzig's Timo Werner would be a good addition.
"Timo has really played his way to centre stage in the past three years…he's someone who has the quality that can make the difference," Muller said about his international team-mate earlier this year.
Bayern have already secured a summer move for World Cup winner Benjamin Pavard - reportedly a £32m deal with Stuttgart - while Davies and Richards are prospects for the future and 19-year-old forward Jann-Fiete Arp will join from Hamburg either at the end of this season or in 2020.
On the wings, Bayern are going to be forced into change as Ribery and Robben are set to depart in the summer. Coman, 22, and Serge Gnabry, 23, will be hoping to step up in their absence.
So is this a good time for Liverpool to be playing Bayern Munich?
If Liverpool go "full throttle", as Andy Robertson has urged, then they might have Bayern thinking about their transition plans sooner rather than later.