A fortnight ago, Bayern Munich were handed a golden opportunity to wreak havoc against a heavily compromised Liverpool defence in the first leg of the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. The absence of Virgil van Dijk – who missed the game due to suspension – meant that Fabinho had to play out of position to partner Joel Matip in the heart of defence.
To his credit, the Brazilian did put in a solid shift in the first leg, but the return of van Dijk further strengthens the Liverpool defence. It also provides a mental block to the Bayern attackers as they take on arguably the best defender in the world this season.
While the front-line has been raking in the goals, it’s the strong defence – led by the Dutchman – that has kept Liverpool right on the heels of last year’s runaway champions Manchester City.
The former Southampton player seldom lets players dribble past him and is always present to ward off aerial threats directed into the box. If he comes clutch – like he has done at will this season – the German giants will find it incredibly hard to unlock Liverpool’s defence.
Bayern lacked teeth in the first leg and barely made the Liverpool defence work for their clean-sheet. It’s baffling as to why Niko Kovac adopted a conservative approach instead of capitalising on van Dijk’s absence and bagging one or two crucial away goals.
Should Liverpool score one goal at the Allianz Arena, the hosts will have to score at least two past a sturdy defence led by van Dijk. That is a tough ask for any team, given the kind of form van Dijk has been in this season.
Clearly, the German giants missed a golden opportunity procuring a significant advantage and could be left to rue as Liverpool look at defensive solidity to advance to the quarterfinals.