Bayern Munich head to Liverpool for Tuesday’s crunch Champions League tie at Anfield demanding improvements and shouldering Germany’s flagging hopes of having a club in the quarter-finals.
Since the 2005-06 season, at least one German side has always made it to the last eight.
That proud run will be under threat if Bayern suffer a heavy defeat in the last-16 first leg ahead of the return game on March 13.
“You can’t make mistakes in these games, but I think we can cause Liverpool problems,” said Bayern midfielder James Rodriguez.
“We have a team that’s good enough to go through, if it goes well.”
Yet confidence in Bayern’s chances at Anfield dipped on Friday when they twice needed to come from behind for a 3-2 win at Bundesliga strugglers Augsburg, where Rodriguez was substituted after an ineffective 56 minutes.
READ ALSO: Iwobi: I’m still growing
Despite sitting just above the relegation places, Augsburg were the latest Bundesliga team to expose Bayern’s weaknesses defending against quick counter-attacks.
“Everything must be better, but we had Liverpool at the backs of our minds,” admitted Bayern coach Niko Kovac.
“We have to perform differently, but it’ll be at international level and that’s a very different focus — I assume that it will be a completely different performance from us.”
After Borussia Dortmund’s 3-0 mauling at Tottenham Hotspur last week, and with Schalke facing English champions Manchester City on Wednesday, Bayern hold Germany’s best hope of quarter-final representation.
Dortmund top the Bundesliga ahead of Bayern, but in Europe it is the Bavarians who have made a habit of reaching the latter stages of the Champions League.
“Dortmund have kept the Bundesliga exciting this year, but at this level you can’t make three individual mistakes like that (against Spurs),” said former Dortmund coach Matthias Sammer, now a Eurosport pundit.
“That’s why I believe Bayern are the leaders in this regard and are carrying the flag in the normal picture, which is now emerging.”
Any Liverpool fan who watched Bayern struggle at Augsburg would have cause for optimism as the Bavarians’ defence creaked in dramatic fashion.
– Leaking defence –
Augsburg winger Philipp Max twice found space early on down the left flank which yielded an own goal by Bayern’s Leon Goretzka after just 13 seconds before South Korea midfielder Ji Dong-won drilled home the hosts’ second.
Kingsley Coman, who should be fit despite an ankle injury scare, rescued Bayern with two first-half goals before setting up David Alaba’s winner.
Yet Sammer expects a different story from Bayern at Anfield.
“You can’t compare Augsburg and Liverpool, they (Bayern) will be up for Liverpool,” said Sammer.
“Nevertheless, both (Augsburg) goals came from the wings and you can’t let balls like that through.
“If they make those mistakes against Liverpool, it will be hard.”
Bayern captain Manuel Neuer agrees that they can ill afford Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool the same chances Augsburg were gifted.
“Liverpool are a strong, attacking team and will get more chances than Augsburg,” said Neuer, back in goal after three games out with a thumb injury.
“We have to be more compact.
“When we work without the ball, there is order in our games, but on the wings we were caught cold and punished accordingly.”
Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said he was disappointed to see Dortmund soundly beaten by Spurs.
“I didn’t smile and wasn’t happy that they lost 3-0,” said Rummenigge.
“I think that (the result) isn’t good for the Bundesliga… These two clubs have always flown the flag (for Germany) in Europe.”