A draw may not have been Bayern’s plan for leg 1 of their Champions League matchup with Liverpool but, as Hal Walker discusses, their performance showed promise alongside the concerns.
As the final whistle blew in Tuesday’s round of 16 Champions League tie on Merseyside, Bayern Munich head coach Niko Kovac could reflect on a job well done, for the moment.
His side had delivered a dogged and resolute defensive performance in riposte to an anticipated Anfield onslaught, and despite the failure to claw an away goal to cherish, the 47-year-old was proud of the disciplined and stout nature his team carried out his game-plan and held their own in a widely adorned arena.
The second leg – scheduled to be played at the Allianz Arena on 13 March – will be an encounter of higher stakes and will be unrecognisable on a tactical level, but it will require far more creative nous and offensive impetus from this Bayern side, and this is where doubts begin.
The fact that Bayern are seeking their seventh consecutive league title tells you everything you need to know about the Bundesliga power struggle, but this is a squad whose clock is visibly ticking and on a domestic front has been paying the price for the club’s reluctance to freshen ranks in the summer.
Irrespective of what happens on the pitch from now until May, this season will be final hurrah for a number of key players in their post-2012 hegemony. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribèry are set to depart and fans have been long calling for the replacements of their esteemed over 30s club; namely Robert Lewandowski, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels.
Last summer, change was called for across all sectors of Bayern’s support and the club’s hierarchical triumvirate – Uli Hoeness, Club President, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Chief Executive and the sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic – succumbed to inertia, resulting in the Bavarians’ sluggish start that saw them drop as low as sixth before Christmas.
Form has picked up since and following a run of nine victories from their last 10 league fixtures, the nine-point gap that appeared seismic has now been cut to just three.
One theory behind last Tuesday’s unyielding display of spirit and togetherness was that this was arguably Bayern’s first encounter under Kovac where they have been genuine underdogs.
At Anfield, the fighting qualities that were so evident in the Croatian’s Eintracht Frankfurt side were for the first time evident in the faultless and workmanlike performances from the likes of Javi Martinez, James Rodriguez, Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman.
Such traits will be a prerequisite for Liverpool’s return visit at the Allianz. As well as matching the composure and control shown on Merseyside, they will need to summon the attacking spark and offensive flamboyancy that has seen them reach the semi-final stages in the Champions League in all but two seasons this decade.
Follow Hal on Twitter @halwalker