Liverpool marched through Munich en route to a place in the Champions League quarter-finals, beating Bayern Munich 3-1.
After the 0-0 draw at Anfield, Liverpool headed to Germany looking to send a message to the rest of Europe, their appearance in last year’s final was no fluke. Klopp and company put down a marker against Bayern and no other side left in the competition will look forward to drawing the Reds.
The first-half started slowly, as the home side tried to shorten the match and pick a moment. Eventually, the match started to open up. Then, in the 26th minute, Sadio Mane scored a goal so good, the only shame was it did not stand alone.
Only 13 minutes later, Joel Matip turned in an unfortunate own goal, taking some of the gloss off an otherwise dominant display. There was little the centre-half could do and failing to act would have seen Robert Lewandowski score.
Liverpool returned for a second-half with a controlled urgency that would eventually get rewarded. Despite one significant chance that flashed across Liverpool’s goal, Bayern’s attack never really threatened. Before too long Virgil van Dijk drove a header home and Mane added another. It was as dominant display as the Reds have mustered in recent weeks.
Here are four findings from the match.
Sadio Mane has almost quietly had the best season of his career. While least year’s emergence of Mo Salah casts a long shadow, the Senegalese has found the space to shine with his own brilliance. He just bagged his second brace in four days and is playing in supreme form.
Yet, his opening goal will go down as one of the best of the campaign. His first touch at the top of the box to kill a pass deep from van Dijk was stunning. However, the spin to send Manuel Neuer to the dressing room and his superb lofted finish between two defenders and inside the far post capped off an absolutely brilliant individual sequence of skill.
Then he put the game away when he headed home a lovely far-post cross from Salah. Mane is simply soaring at the minute.
During the Reds’ difficult patch, van Dijk has been beyond vital. Yet, the Dutchman has been so outstanding since joining Liverpool that he nearly warrants the Man of the Match award almost every time he steps onto the pitch. His quality, leadership, and influence transformed the side. Along the way, he has become the best centre-half in the world.
Another headed goal from a set piece saw van Dijk extend his scoring form to three goals in four games. It all but ensured Liverpool’s advancement, adding a sheen to his assist for the first goal.
Still, the defender makes his money at the back where he is imperious. In the two legs against Bayern Munich, he led a defence that yielded just three shots on target. He is Big Virg, and he is a colossus.
For a match that began in a tight, cagey fashion, Liverpool seized the opportunity to get in front and pile the pressure on the home side. However, a quick restart caught Andrew Robertson flat footed and Matip’s own goal equalised a match where Bayern never really looked like scoring. Yet, the goal revived Bayern and saw them grow into the match.
It turned into a rare instance when Liverpool benefitted from the half-time break. The Reds returned in the second half with greater calmness and control. Gone was the sloppy play that made the midfield an area where Liverpool lost the ball.
The guile of the grafters recovered and would impose the game plan. The Reds emerged more mature, strangled Bayern and finished them off.
Klopp in command
As Liverpool continue to challenge for both the Premier League and the Champions League, Jurgen Klopp has been fielding all kinds of questions and comments about the challenge of two competitions.
Leading up the second leg match against Bayern, the manager dismissed any suggestion that the club should tighten their focus on one front. As he put it, “The boys are in a good moment.”
Just how right the gaffer was. He has guided the club back to Europe’s elite. Liverpool are a force again domestically and on the continent.
It must have been extra sweet to beat Bayern, an old nemesis, at their own ground in advancing to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
This was Klopp’s 16th victory in 20 European cup ties. The German’s influence on the club has restored its strength and stature. Should he guide the Reds to one of the two trophies yet to win, he will launch a legacy at a club that has plenty.