LONDON (AFP) – Liverpool travel to German champions Bayern Munich tomorrow (4am Brunei time) hoping to complete a clean sweep for Premier League sides in the Champions League last 16.
But with the tie poised at 0-0 after a tense first-leg at Anfield three weeks ago, much will depend on Liverpool’s front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane rediscovering their scoring form on the road in Europe.
Tottenham drew first blood for English sides in three Anglo-Bundesliga battles with an impressive 4-0 aggregate victory over Borussia Dortmund, while Manchester City are expected to comfortably see off struggling Schalke with a 3-2 first leg lead to take home for the second leg.
However, Bayern, so consistently the cream of the crop in Germany, pose an all-together different challenge for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on his return to his homeland.
For once a raucous atmosphere was not enough to help the Reds build a first leg lead on home soil three weeks ago, meaning Liverpool must end a run of five straight defeats in the Champions League away from Anfield to progress to the last eight.
Last season Salah, Firmino and Mane scored 10 Champions League goals each as Liverpool’s firepower carried them to the final.
Seven games into this European campaign, that same trio have combined for just six goals – four of which came in a routine home win over Red Star Belgrade.
Indeed, the only goal Liverpool managed at all in three group stage defeats on the road to Napoli, Red Star and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) came via a James Milner penalty in the French capital.
Mane and Firmino at least warmed up for the trip to Munich by each scoring twice in a 4-2 win over Burnley last Sunday as Liverpool remained in the Premier League title race, just a point behind pace setters City.
Salah, by contrast, has struck just once in his last eight games, although he did make a positive impact as a provider against Burnley and in the recent 5-0 thrashing of Watford.
“For me Mo Salah was the best player on the pitch and he did not score,” said Klopp.
“I’m not sure that you will see that in a lot of ratings, because he’s a striker and didn’t score so then you make of it what you want. But we have no problem with confidence.”
The spotlight on Salah all season has been intense after an incredible 44-goal debut campaign at Anfield that saw him challenge for the Ballon d’Or.
And his lack of impact away from home is a worrying trend that has now prolonged for months rather than weeks.
The Egyptian’s last goal from open play on the road was on December 21 last year.
He was substituted after an anonymous 79 minutes in a 0-0 draw at Manchester United and missed two glaring opportunities in another goalless draw in the Merseyside derby with Everton.
“I know he scored in February but, for me, since December, he’s been struggling. The worst thing is his touch, his touch has deserted him,” former Liverpool defender Steve Nicol, a European Cup winner with the Reds told ESPN.
“This is the business time of the season so it needs to be sorted out pretty quickly.”
However, unlike United and Everton’s more cautious tactics in recent weeks, to blunt the Liverpool counter-attack, Bayern’s need to score could favour the visitors’ pace on the break.
“They’ll need to come out a bit more, their fans will demand they try to create,” said Liverpool left-back Andy Robertson.
“It’s all about trying to keep them out first and foremost and then hopefully we can take the chances we get.”
There would be no better way for Salah to silence his doubters than landing a knockout blow to one of European football’s heavyweights.