The talk before the game was how the Anfield crowd would whip up a frenzy such that it would inspire their team to replicate it on the pitch. Bayern Munich though, remained unflustered. Each time Liverpool came at them, they simply seemed to grow more composed. In fact the most composed player on the pitch was the one who was the most vulnerable to Liverpool’s pressure: Manuel Neuer. But the goalkeeper seemed to thrive off it, and his defenders sensed it too. Each time they were pushed back, and were unable to pass it through, they simply played it back to Neuer who had the confidence – and just that little bit of extra time to take stock and potentially find a free man.
In reality, weren’t at their fluent best in this 0-0 first leg draw versus Liverpool, but away from home, against such potent opponents, they dominated and that was in large part due to Neuer. His role was both stopper, which surprisingly was less relied upon, and playmaker in one.
Indeed, that’s why goalkeepers have exploded in price in recent years; you’re essentially signing two positions. Liverpool would concur with that thought having broken the transfer record to sign Allison and indeed, the goalkeeper fulfilled a similar role from them last night. However, he was less certain than Neuer, in one case wanting too much time to dribble past his opponent, but instead opting to flick it to a defender in the last minute. They both know the risks their style poses but by creating the conditions to allow them to pick the passes, the goalkeeper turns to such an effective outlet.
That’s how Bayern used Neuer against Liverpool because, knowing that they would be pressed in midfield, they essentially flipped the playmaker from the base of midfield, to the goalkeeper. Thus, Javi Martinez, nominally assuming that deep-lying role, rarely came deep for the ball, and instead moved up the pitch to drag the markers with him so that it would create that extra space for Neuer to pick out the pass.
Indeed, in the past you would probably expect that midfielder to drop in between the centre-backs to open to pitch to play through the press, but here with goalkeepers that are just as good technically, the emphasis has switched somewhat. As such, the two centre-backs Sule and Hummels, didn’t split that wide. This had the added benefit thus, of guarding Bayern from the counter-attack should they lose it trying to play out. In the end, The Germans were not as threatened by Liverpool’s dynamic trio.
In the second-half, to try and implant a bit more fluency to their play, the manager Niko Kovac, did ask Thiago Alcantara, to drop in between the centre-backs when he could. It was telling though, that Thiago was not traditionally playing as the holder in the match; he was just the most technically proficient of the three midfielders and tended to drop in starting from a leftish midfield position. Martinez continued to act as a decoy whilst Neuer was still taking responsibility to beat the press. He ended with 62 passes attempted, a number which you’d expect from a midfielder, and not a goalkeeper.