UCL Last-16 Preview: Bayern Braced For Klopp Reunion at Liverpool
Liverpool vs Bayern Munich & Atletico Madrid vs Juventus: Two headline acts in this week’s last-16 first leg action.
Bayern Munich know all too well how tough an opponent Jurgen Klopp can be.
Now in his fourth season at Anfield, the former Borussia Dortmund coach is facing Bayern for the first time while leading Liverpool.
Bayern visit Liverpool for the first leg of their Champions League last-16 game on Tuesday, 19 February, mindful that they didn't always come out on top against Klopp during his time at Dortmund.
While Bayern defeated Klopp's Dortmund side in the 2013 Champions League final, Klopp had the upper hand in the 2012 German Cup final, which Dortmund won 5-2. Klopp also led Dortmund to successive league titles at Bayern's expense, in 2011 and 2012.
Also in action on Tuesday night are Barcelona, who are away at Lyon.
On Wednesday, 20 February, Atletico Madrid welcome Juventus, and Schalke host Manchester City.
Reds Rising, Bayern Breaking?
Liverpool have not lost a European match at Anfield since a 3-0 group stage defeat to Real Madrid in 2014, and Bayern have questions over their defense ahead of the trip.
The Bavarian powerhouses conceded twice to relegation-threatened Augsburg in the Bundesliga on Friday, when Leon Goretzka scored an own-goal after just 13 seconds – the quickest own-goal in 56 years of the league. Bayern recovered to win 3-2.
“We’ll have to deliver a whole other performance on the day, especially in defense,” Bayern coach Niko Kovac said, warning of the danger posed by “the three up front,” referring to Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.
Liverpool also had the luxury of a week without a game before Bayern's visit, due to their early FA Cup exit. The team spent four days at a training camp in Marbella, Spain.
“Our little preparation for the rest of the season,” Liverpool defender Andy Robertson said.
Bayern winger Kingsley Coman is an option for Kovac after fears of an injury sustained in Augsburg proved unfounded. Coman scored twice, set up David Alaba's winner and struck the crossbar in Augsburg, while also underlining his growing importance to the side with the winning goal against Hertha Berlin in the German Cup.
Liverpool will have to cope without central defender Virgil van Dijk as he serves a UEFA suspension for the first leg. Klopp faces the prospect of having to deploy midfielder Fabinho alongside Joel Matip with Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren both injured.
While Liverpool are accustomed to deep runs in Europe – winning the Champions League in 2005 and reaching the final in 2007 as well as last season – the club has not won the English league since 1990.
Although a chance to pull away from Manchester City at the top of the Premier League was squandered with two recent draws, Liverpool are still only behind City on goal difference and has a game in hand.
In a ninteresting sub-plot to the game, Bayern president Uli Hoeness recently revealed that he almost signed Klopp to take over before the club decided on Jurgen Klinsmann as manager in 2008.
Can Barca Breathe Easy at Lyon?
Barcelona are back in good spirits after ending a three-game winless streak and extending their comfortable lead in the Spanish league over the weekend.
But they head into the game against Lyon showing signs they are yet to rediscover their best form despite having a whole week to prepare before a hard-fought 1-0 home win against Valladolid in La Liga on Saturday, 16 February.
Lionel Messi and most of his teammates struggled, and the team looked off both in attack and in defense.
Arthur’s absence in midfield has become a problem for coach Ernesto Valverde, as the young Brazilian was the main player controlling the team’s pace. Arthur needs a few more weeks to recover from a hamstring injury.
The game could go a long way to deciding Lyon coach Bruno Genesio's chances of keeping his job.
Although Genesio guided Lyon to the last-16 without losing a group game, long-serving club president Jean-Michel Aulas has yet to say whether Genesio will stay on next season.
Genesio will have to find a way to beat Barca without Nabil Fekir, the main provider and scorer in Lyon's attack, who is suspended.
With Fekir absent, Netherlands forward Memphis Depay has the chance to put in the kind of performance to help him fulfill his wish of joining a bigger club next season.
Ronaldo Returns to Madrid
Cristiano Ronaldo is returning to Madrid with his Juventus side hitting its stride at just the right time, and Atletico should be worried – the former Real Madrid forward has scored 22 goals in 31 matches against his former derby rivals.
The Bianconeri are on a seemingly unstoppable march to a record-extending eighth successive league title in Italy, and could be forgiven for relaxing slightly.
While a 3-0 defeat at Atalanta in the Italian Cup ended their chances of a treble, and were followed by a 3-3 draw against Parma, it appears to have been just a blip with Juve going on to beat both Sassuolo and Frosinone 3-0.
“Yes, we are in a good condition,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “Apart from the setback against Parma we are doing well, and we are at a particularly important moment.”
Ronaldo scored again against Frosinone on Friday, 15 February, to take his tally to 19 in Serie A. He also showed as good an understanding with Paulo Dybala as he has had with Mario Mandzukic, who joined Juventus from Atletico in 2015.
Allegri was able to rest several players for Friday's match while also giving a run to key defenders Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, back from injury.
Atletico hav not looked convincing in the Spanish league, scraping a 1-0 win at relegation-threatened Rayo Vallecano on Saturday after two defeats.
City’s Quest to Conquer All
Man City were given a kind draw against a Schalke side clearly struggling in their second season under coach Domenico Tedesco.
Saturday's 0-0 draw at home against Freiburg was indicative of the Gelsenkirchen-based team's season to date – an unattractive game of few chances with midfielder Suat Serdar sent off before the break for a studs-up challenge.
Schalke have won only six of their 22 league games so far, and languish in 14th place in the 18-team standings. They could yet be drawn into a relegation fight before the season is out.
The contrast could hardly be greater.
City, in their Premier League title defense, are ahead of Liverpool on goal difference – and decimated Chelsea 6-0 in their last league outing.
Coach Pep Guardiola had the luxury of resting some leading players on Saturday for the FA Cup win over fourth-tier side Newport. Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva were not summoned from the bench and Sergio Aguero had the afternoon off entirely.
The team was back in training on Sunday ahead of the trip to Germany.
A European trophy has eluded City since the Abu Dhabi takeover 11 years ago, with the semi-finals the furthest the team has progressed in the Champions League.
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