Bayern Munich boss Kovac says Liverpool toughest UCL round-of-16 foe
LIVERPOOL, England -- Niko Kovac believes his Bayern Munich side were paired with the toughest opponents in the Champions League as they prepare to face Liverpool in the last 16.
The two-legged tie begins on Tuesday evening as the reigning Bundesliga champions travel to Anfield.
Liverpool reached the final of the competition last season where they lost to Real Madrid and are battling Manchester City for the Premier League title this season, leaving Kovac in no doubt about the task that lies ahead.
"Tomorrow we're playing against an opponent that's the most difficult draw," the German told a news conference on Monday evening.
"If you look at what Liverpool did in the Champions League last season and what Liverpool are doing in the Premier League this season, then you have to say Liverpool is the most difficult draw that there is.
"Other draws would have been difficult. But I maintain that tomorrow and in Munich the form on the day will be decisive. I don't know if there is a favourite or not.
"Liverpool has respect for us as we do for them and there will be a sporting contest tomorrow."
Both teams have defensive concerns ahead of the match, with Liverpool set to field a makeshift centre-half due to Dejan Lovren's injury and Virgil van Dijk being suspended.
Jerome Boateng, meanwhile, did not travel with the Bayern squad to Merseyside as he deals with a bout of gastroenteritis while winger Franck Ribery will join his teammates in England later after his wife gave birth early on Monday, Kovac said.
Kovac, who has a 21-man squad for the round-of-16 first-leg match, said: "Jerome Boateng is absent because of a stomach bug.
"Franck Ribery became a father again tonight. He will fly out this afternoon."
Despite captain Manuel Neuer returning from injury in the win at Augsburg on Friday, Kovac has called up third-choice keeper Christian Fruchtl as a backup measure.
"It has improved a bit," sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said, adding that a lot could happen ahead of the game.
Bayern will also be without attacker Thomas Muller, suspended for both legs against Liverpool following his red card in the group stage match against Ajax.
Despite the absences and injury doubts, Kovac is predicting an open game with plenty of goals as both outfits still possess plenty of firepower in the final third.
"In the Bundesliga we've played against two teams, [Borussia] Dortmund and [Bayer] Leverkusen, who have had a similar playing style and also the right quality. But tomorrow is a higher level," Kovac said.
"We have to find the solutions. We've got them, but that depends on what happens on the pitch on the night. You can show things and say things to people -- that's relatively easy -- but putting it into practice is the difficulty.
"Tomorrow we probably won't see 0-0. I can't imagine that."
ESPN FC writers Stephan Uersfeld and Glenn Price contributed to this story.