Bayern Munich v Liverpool Wednesday 13 March, 20:00 Live on BT Sport 2
Improving Bayern know season is on the line
For a season that was supposed to be about transition and beginning a rebuild under new coach Niko Kovac, Bayern still have the potential to have one of their best ever campaigns.
They are now top of the Bundesliga on goal difference (they were nine points behind their rivals Borussia Dortmund at one stage), they will face second-tier side Heidenheim in the quarter-finals of the DFB Cup and a deep run in the Champions League is still a possibility. But such is the pressure of coaching Bayern, Kovac's maiden campaign is on a razor's edge.Failure to reach at least the quarter-finals of Europe's premier competition would be seen as a huge disappointment, regardless of the domestic double that could be on the horizon.
Bayern have hit top gear in their last two Bundesliga matches, thrashing Borussia Monchengladbach 5-1 at Borussia Park, and demolishing a usually solid Wolfsburg outfit 6-0.
One of the criticisms of Kovac from within the club and from outside has been his failure to come up with ingenious ways to break down defences, but the German champions have started to look far more dangerous. Star striker Robert Lewandowski has netted braces in his last two games, taking his goal tally to 29 in all competitions. Thomas Muller, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels all have extra motivation to impress nowadays, having been forcibly (and disgracefully) retired from international duty by Bundestrainer Joachim Loew.
The Bavarian giants showed they can dig in if required at Anfield, seeing out a scoreless draw in the first leg of this tie. However, they will have to push forward in this game, and their weakness this term has been defending in transition against teams with quality in attack. Dortmund, Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen have all overcome Bayern in the league this term, and all of them scored three goals apiece in those victories.
Influential right-back Joshua Kimmich is suspended, so veteran Rafinha is likely to deputise. Muller is also banned, and flying Dutchman Arjen Robben is still out with a calf injury. David Alaba and Kingsley Coman are both back in training, and would give Bayern a huge boost if they were declared fit. James Rodriguez is likely to start again after a big upturn in the Colombian's form.
Liverpool must regain attacking spark
Much was made of Liverpool's failure to score against Bayern in the first leg, but perhaps just as important is the fact they kept a clean sheet without suspended behemoth Virgil van Dijk. Liverpool have played out three goalless stalemates in their last five games, and while that's a concern, there's something to be said for racking up five clean sheets in the last six matches. Indeed, Liverpool have the best defensive record in the Premier League (17 goals leaked), and they haven't conceded more than one goal in an away game since a 2-1 FA Cup defeat at Wolves in early January.
On the attacking side of things, Mohamed Salah has scored just one goal in his last eight appearances, while Roberto Firmino has only found the net in two of his last ten outings in all competitions. Both players will need to hit top gear on Wednesday night if Liverpool are to progress, although Salah looked very sharp in Sunday's 4-2 win over Burnley. One player that hasn't dropped off in terms of goalscoring is Sadio Mane. The Senegalese speedster has been almost metronomically consistent, scoring eight goals in his last nine matches.
Van Dijk returns from suspension, and there are no fresh injury concerns. Adam Lallana is pushing hard for a start after great performances in training and a sparkling display against Burnley, but Jurgen Klopp may plump for a more defensively-minded option such as James Milner or Jordan Henderson.
Bayern too short to take the win
Bayern have a very impressive Champions League record at the Allianz Arena overall, but they have only won two of their last five UCL games in Munich, and even though they have improved in the league they seem too short to me at 2.14.
I think Liverpool's increased ability to control games and their defensive sharpness can allow them to ward off an early Bayern surge, and I'm convinced that Klopp's side will make chances on the break against a Bayern side that can be really ragged when they lose possession. The loss of Kimmich is a real blow to the German champions, and I think Rafinha can be exposed as a weak link by the excellent duo of Sadio Mane and rampaging left-back Andy Robertson. If LFC grab an away goal, Bayern could be in big trouble.
You could back Draw and Away in the Double Chance market at 1.84, but I don't anticipate another goalless draw that would send this to extra time, so instead I'll back Liverpool to qualify at 2.02.
Don't expect mayhem in Munich
Liverpool will try to keep things tight early on, and although Bayern will push to score the first goal of the tie, Kovac is very wary of the English side's counter-attacking quality. The Croatian coach won't take unnecessary risks here, and against a resolute Liverpool it wouldn't surprise me to see an Under 2.5 Goals bet land here at 2.18.
Mane can take his chance this time
The in-form Sadio Mane looked more likely than most to score for Liverpool in the first leg, and he should get chances again in Munich. He is trading at a hefty 3.30to score in 90 minutes.
Lewandowski has rattled in four goals in his last two games, and for all the talk of his decline and individualism, I think he's looked really good all season. He's trading at 1.83 to score.