Germany has something of an obsession with “Der FC Liverpool.”
Whenever a German team travels to Merseyside, the media is awash with romantic tales of The Anfield Road, The Kop, the atmosphere, You’ll Never Walk Alone. Several German clubs have adopted the famous song as their own.
Ahead of the 20th visit of a German team to Anfield, Bayern Munich themselves got involved, with Mats Hummels, Thomas Müller, Robert Lewandowski and Manuel Neuer posing in wigs on a mock-up of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover beneath the words “The Bayerns: Come Together.”
And Bayern did come together, battling out a hard-fought 0-0 draw which has seen manager Niko Kovac praised for a disciplined, defensive display which quickly silenced the legendary stadium.
“Did they not say that Liverpool fans sing and scream endlessly, driving their team on and on until they’re 3-0 up at half-time, the opposition blinded by team and stadium?” asked the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“With unusual tactics and astonishing discipline, Niko Kovac and his team took the sting out of Liverpool and Anfield,” the broadsheet continued. “And in the stands, one heard the Bayern fans instead.”
Kovac’s match-plan may have been unusual to Bayern observers but, as Spiegel pointed out, the conservative tactics were familiar from the Croatian’s time in charge of Eintracht Frankfurt.
“Kovac is at his best with Frankfurt tactics,” wrote the news magazine, which famously illustrated its European Super League revelations last year with a Bayern logo and the word “Betrayal.”
“The back four were supported by a strong holding midfielder in Javi Martinez and Liverpool found it difficult to find space against a compact defence,” they reported.
National broadsheet Die Welt was also impressed, saying: “Niko Kovac’s team convinced with a strong defensive performance and never let Liverpool’s fearsome attack spread their wings.”
German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle said it was “Kovac's most accomplished tactical achievement yet” while the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said the controlled performance suggested that Bayern Munich had rediscovered their “Mia San Mia” – the club’s Bavarian marketing slogan which translates as “we are who we are.”
Back at the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the reporters were talking about “Kovac’s proudest day as Bayern coach – we saw a man who looked satisfied, who watched his team do precisely what he wanted for 90 minutes. Everyone defended. Really, everyone.”
Nevertheless, there is also recognition in Germany that the job is barely half done. The last time Bayern Munich and Liverpool met in a European knock-out tie in 1981, the first leg at Anfield also ended goalless, before a 1-1 draw in Munich saw the English side progress.
“Bayern have put themselves in a good but also dangerous position going into the second leg,” analysed Kicker, aware that Bayern will have to be more adventurous at home. “Bayern were the better team in Liverpool in all departments,” wrote Berlin-based Tagesspiegel, “but they’ll have to be even better in the return game.” Spiegel still see Liverpool as favourites to go through.
For the time being though, Bayern have tamed the mythical monster that the German press have made of Anfield. “As Salah and Mané ran down blind alleys, the songs from the stands died out as well,” wrote the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “In the end, only the drizzle came down from the terraces. Jürgen Klopp has lost his Anfield trump card.”