The marquee match-up of the Champions League Round of 16 is Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich on Tuesday, February 19th at 3pm ET.
Through a combination of suspensions, injuries and illnesses, both squads are fielding mini-MASH units going into the Leg 1 match at Anfield.
Injuries and Odds
Despite being at Anfield, the odds aren’t as heavy for Liverpool as many would expect. At FanDuel NJ, Liverpool are only +105 to win.
|Liverpool +105||Draw + 250||Bayern Munich +250|
Yes, not having arguably Europe’s best center-back, Virgil van Dijk, is part of the reason Liverpool isn’t in the -110 range. In fact, Liverpool are down three center-backs, with Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez both out. Today it was reported that Roberto Firmino is dealing with an illness that may or may not keep him from playing.
The Reds aren’t the only ones suffering though.
Bayern will potentially be without a slew of veterans, including Franck Ribery (personal, though may still play), Arjen Robben (injured), Jerome Boateng (illness) and Thomas Muller (suspended two games) on Tuesday.
Combined Liverpool vs. Bayern Munich Starting XI
Over the weekend, ESPN FC’s Shaka Hislop stated that there may not be one healthy Bayern player for Leg 1 that would make his combined starting XI. As an unabashed Liverpool fan, as much as I’d like to agree with that statement, I don’t. However, looking at a combined starting XI for the two squads helps provide some clarity as to how this match could go.
First, let’s make the following assumptions: Roberto Firmino is recovered and will play the 9, James Rodriguez slides into the 10 for Bayern, and Jurgen Klopp goes for continuity from Liverpool’s last match at midfield, meaning Naby Keita, Fabinho, and Gini Wijnaldum get the start.
Second, on defense, while an argument could be made for letting 17 year-old phenom Ki-Jana Hoever get his first Champions League start, the more likely scenario is Joel Matip is paired with Jordan Henderson (or Fabinho, in which case, expect Hendo to start in midfield).
And third, for the sake of this exercise, we’ll make this a 4-3-3 (although you might see Klopp rollout a 4-2-3-1, more on that later).
With that in mind, here’s the combined starting XI for Liverpool and Bayern Munich:
In this format, Liverpool have six of the starting XI to Bayern’s five. Bayern’s strength is up the middle, Liverpool on the wings. Given the seasons that Mane, Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Salah are having for Liverpool, that shouldn’t be too surprising. While Niklas Sule and Mats Hummels don’t stack up in quality to VVD and Gomez, they’re the stronger pairing here. Even in what many consider to be a down year for him, Robert Lewandowski is scoring at an elite clip, and leads all players in Champions League goals with 8 (Lionel Messi follows with 6, and Mo Salah leads Liverpool with 3). James was a tough call at the 10, but edges out Fabinho and / or Henderson centrally.
If Bayern are stronger up the middle (particularly with both of Liverpool’s CBs out), then Klopp going to a 4-2-3-1 like he has multiple times this campaign will provide some backline support against Lewandowski and James. In that scenario, a starting XI of Robertson, Matip, Fabinho/Henderson, Alexander-Arnold, then Henderson/Fabino and Wijnaldum as dual sixes, with Mane, Firmino, ex-Bayern player Xherdan Shaqiri, and Salah up top nuetralizes Bayern’s strengths and keeps what could be a wide-open, high-scoring affair into a more grind-it-out battle.
Captain Obvious here, but the fewer away goals Liverpool concedes the better for them, and this could be a very conservative approach by Klopp. Expect a heavy reliance on Robbo and TAA going full-on wing-back in helping spark the attack, and a full-throated Anfield crowd to make the difference in a close one.