HOW do you deal with pressure?
How do you take the expectation and make something of it?
Liverpool didn’t have all the answers tonight, but at what is ostensibly half time in this Champions League fixture, the question is very much set. Pressure is what Bayern Munich have decided to invite. Let’s see what happens next. But our lads will do for me.
From the beginning, Liverpool are warmed up for the game. Anfield is freezing and rainy, but the pressure brings its own heat. When the game kicks off, Liverpool are at home and on balance have the advantage. Yet both teams are missing talismanic players – van Dijk and Muller – and it would be a surprise if there were no nerves.
So, while things start slowly you can – slowly but surely – feel the heat being turned up in the first half. That pressure is coming on. You can sense it.
The Reds bounce into the first half, with early shots for Salah and a positive show for the first 20 minutes culminating in a brave overhead attempt from Keita. Bayern responded to pressure well, though, and despite Liverpool holding the cards, the German side made crucial tackles and were far from intimidated.
A freekick doesn’t go our way, but still, Liverpool have seven attempts on goal in the first half hour, and a great run from Keita marks the 30th minute.
You can see the point of him. You can see the skill of him. It’s all there and he gets himself in this side, he equips himself marvellously. And moments later a beautiful connection from Firmino to Keita to Mane gives us the thrill of expectation only to end in a miskicked attempt that goes wide.
Liverpool tried to confuse and destabilise, crafting patterns across the pitch and picking up pace the whole time. Mane makes an attempt at an overhead kick around the 40th minute, and it felt like something, something might come before the break. Bayern feel vulnerable as the clock ticks and Liverpool have that learned air of a side used to turning the screw.
Suddenly, Liverpool come again, and again, and Mo Salah dribbles and crosses back, and he and Firmino look like spiders criss-crossing a web across the 18-yard box, never showing for a second which way they will move next.
But for all Liverpool’s possession in the latter part of the first half Bayern do not give up. They still look capable of stopping the red breakout. They counter. They win corners. They force Allison to make the save. They are a good side playing with the benefit of being the underdog tonight. Only tonight they get that luxury.
Special mention must go to Jordan Henderson. One moment he is brilliant in defensive action and then seconds later he is upfront. It’s some performance under the circumstances. He ran the show, the outstanding performer on the pitch.
Beyond that it is so good to see Trent back in his place lifting his crosses effortlessly forward. Throughout the game he looks pleased to be back. He pushes progressively further forward, making himself more of an attacker, and though ultimately futile in this match, he is on the road back to his best. We can forgive him the missed pass or two.
Liverpool go in at half time on good form but without a goal. It is frustrating. The pressure gets to us all but the avoidance of pressure is part of it. We all have to cope with it. You have to suck it up.
After the break Bayern see Lewandowski break out of the control of the Liverpool midfield but not be able to build onto the centre backs.
Their threat grows but the pace drops. Bayern’s control of Liverpool increases. The temperature falls through the floor and as the clock hits the 65th minute, Liverpool are struggling to get Bayern under the cosh again.
The timing between the front three misfires and good opportunities are left wanting for the sake of a misplaced pass, and while the Origi change makes sense on paper, it plays out poorly. Divock is nowhere near the game, evoking the difference between Champions and Europa League before our eyes.
By the midway point of the second half, Coman and Gnabry are wide, getting back to stop the Liverpool attack much more than threatening the goal. Thiago tackles well and is holding up the Liverpool press, collecting the ball from The Reds at several faulty moments but this is as much about us as it is them.
Freekick at the 70th minute. We are all hoping for a set piece, but the relief of a goal doesn’t come. It just never comes and by that point it doesn’t feel likely. The switch of Milner for Keita feels like the right choice, but ultimately, this was not the night when a magical corner was to be struck and headed into the back of net. Milner was eager but unable to bring a reward.
In the end, while Liverpool don’t give up, nor do they crack under pressure, they also don’t find a way to let the light in. Mane forces a save with a brave header at 85, and the resulting corner is equally as frustrating. While Gini has nothing to be apologetic for, in the final quarter, he goes off the boil and mishits and mispasses. It is a rare shakiness from him.
Tense. This is so tense. Our expectations are high. The pressure is mounting and problems are coming not as single spies but in whole battalions. Passes that would have been easy become hard. Shots that might have fallen lucky, fall flat. Do we manage the situation or are we kept at arm’s length?
No answer until the second leg. Munich get this as well as anyone; their history shows that. But we get it too. The ground knew what it was watching. The tie will be decided in Munich but know this: Liverpool will show courage. They will show nous. They will be smart. Munich may outplay Liverpool but they won’t outthink us.
Liverpool need a goal. They may need a brace. But they will be stronger at the back next time out.
All the best, Bayern. Can’t wait. United next. The pressure has started.
I, for one, am backing our lads. They are the only game in town. They will always do for me.
“I’m not worried about this at all. We can turn them over in Munich.” 👏
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) February 19, 2019