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Liverpool v Bayern München

Fabinho silences Lewandowski as Van Dijk-less Liverpool leave it all to play for in Munich

01:06 EAT 20/02/2019
Fabinho Robert Lewandowski Liverpool Bayern Munich 2018-19
The goalless draw at Anfield surprised plenty - but the Reds will fancy their chances of finishing the job in Germany

So that’s Niko Kovac’s new nickname sorted.

'The Jinx', we can call him.

“We probably won’t see 0-0,” the Bayern Munich coach had suggested on the eve of this Champions League last 16 clash.

It was a reasonable assumption in fairness, given the attacking quality on display from both sides.

Funny old game though, football. And after 90 absorbing but ultimately scoreless minutes, we will head to the Allianz Arena in three weeks’ time with this tie still very much in the balance.

Advantage Liverpool? If it is, the margin could not be slimmer. This is not a team used to celebrating goalless draws at home, but given the defensive issues which had dogged them heading into this game, they can look upon it as a useful result. Certainly, Jurgen Klopp will fancy his side to score in Munich.

"It was not the result or the game we dreamed of," Klopp admitted, though he would go on to point out that 0-0 was "the best draw you can have."

Virgil van Dijk’s absence through suspension here was always likely to challenge the Reds. The Dutchman is a totemic presence at the back, and his calmness, communication and aerial presence would have been hard to replace even if Dejan Lovren had been passed fit, which he wasn’t.

As it was, Liverpool began with midfielder Fabinho partnering Joel Matip at centre-back. An untried, makeshift partnership against Robert Lewandowski, one of the world’s premier centre-forwards - the Champions League's top scorer this season, no less.

A worry, yes, but give credit where it is due. Liverpool handled Lewandowski, and just about everything else Bayern could muster, excellently. The Bundesliga champions have still to score at Anfield.

What a superb signing Fabinho is proving to be for the Merseysiders. Having started slowly, and taken time to find his feet following his summer transfer, the former Monaco man is emerging as a key figure for Klopp’s side – wherever he plays.

“He’s like a lighthouse,” assistant manager Pep Lijnders told Goal recently, and here he looked as in control as he does when playing further forwards. He looked, in fact, like the senior centre-back compared to Matip at times.

There were notable interventions – one challenge on Lewandowski in the second-half, in particular, was perfectly-timed in the penalty area – and rarely did Fabinho look fazed by the pressure of playing out of position in such a high-stakes encounter. Bayern, in truth, rarely looked like scoring aside from a nervy opening 15 minutes or so, when Liverpool’s desire to play out from the back got them into trouble. Alisson Becker, in particular, raised the pulse of the Kop with his hesitancy.

Liverpool looked the likeliest scorers as the game wore on, but were unable to cause Manuel Neuer too many problems themselves. One late save, low to his right from a Sadio Mane header, ensured the game ended in stalemate. At the other end, Alisson was protected superbly by Fabinho and Co, with Jordan Henderson outstanding in midfield for the home side.

And so we head to Germany with everything still to play for. Bayern, naturally, will consider themselves favourites given they have home advantage, and Kovac’s team is used to being in the latter stages of the Champions League. Since 2011, they have only failed to reach the semi-final stage once.

"I can't remember that many clubs that have not lost and not conceded at Anfield," said Kovac afterwards. "Liverpool, they are a sensationally-good team."

He's right, of course. Bayern were impressive at times with their composure and experience, particularly when Liverpool threatened to build up a head of steam. They certainly were not cowed by the Anfield atmosphere. They defended well and could welcome back Leon Goretzka and Arjen Robben for the second leg, though Joshua Kimmich will miss out through suspension. They're still a formidable team.

They will, however, surely view this as a missed opportunity. Liverpool’s chin was exposed tonight, and Bayern failed to land a blow. If the Reds, with Van Dijk back, can show the same resilience in the Allianz, it will be they who progress to the last eight.