Liverpool secured an outstanding 3-1 win away to Bayern Munich on Wednesday night, reaching the Champions League quarter-finals in the process.
Bayern Munich 1-3 Liverpool
Champions League Last 16 Second Leg, Allianz Arena
March 13, 2019
Goals: Matip OG 36′; Mane 29′, 84′, Van Dijk 69′
Mane the Main Man
Sadio Mane has been Liverpool’s most consistent attacking player this season and his form was scintillating heading into the trip to the Allianz.
The Senegalese was again his side’s talisman on a memorable European away day, with one moment of sheer genius standing out.
Mane’s mesmerising opening goal was one of the great Reds Champions League strikes, as he took down a Virgil van Dijk pass superbly, dummied Manuel Neuer and dinked an impudent effort into the net.
He was a menace throughout, bamboozling Bayern’s defence with his quick feet and unpredictability, and he headed home the tie-killing goal late on too.
That’s now 19 goals for the season for Mane—only Mohamed Salah (20) has more—and 10 in as many matches, with his performances improving by the week.
This is the player whose exit to the Africa Cup of Nations felt fatal back in 2016/17, as he hits peak form at the perfect time.
Van Dijk Stands Tall
Van Dijk had already put together an imperious campaign before Wednesday’s trip to Munich, with many pencilling him as the recipient for multiple end-of-season awards.
His influence is unrivalled currently, not only for Liverpool but also arguably in Europe, and he proved to be a key man once again.
Defensively he was a rock, winning aerial battles, snapping into tackles and never panicking up against the wily Robert Lewandowski, outlining why he is the world’s premier centre-back right now.
If his showing at the back was typically immaculate, Van Dijk also played a major role in the tie at the other end, powering an unstoppable header past Neuer to put the Reds 2-1 up.
It was effectively the moment Liverpool went through to the quarters, with the 27-year-old proving he is the Reds’ modern-day Sami Hyypia in the Champions League.
He is a man mountain whose impact has been truly remarkable in the 14 months since he arrived at Liverpool.
New-Found Pragmatism on Show
If Liverpool were a swashbuckling force capable of attacking brilliance and defensive ineptitude last season, their 2018/19 campaign has been defined by a more pragmatic style.
It may not always have been as easy on the eye, but it has ensured a remarkable points tally in the Premier League and qualification for the Champions League‘s last eight.
This new-found ability to control matches and showcase a more savvy side to their game was there for all to see on Wednesday night.
There was nothing remotely gung-ho about the performance, with a resolute defensive display standing out against one of Europe’s most dangerous teams.
Similarly, some of the dark arts were on show—something Liverpool previously lacked—with time-wasting clear on several occasions from the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Milner and Roberto Firmino.
This Reds side has grown up in the last 12 months, replacing free-flowing recklessness with great maturity.
Robertson’s Yellow the Only Negative
Liverpool were rarely tested against a disappointing Bayern outfit, which was due in part to their aforementioned defensive solidity.
As the game ticked into stoppage time, the Reds were closing in on an almost perfect night, only for one negative to occur.
Andy Robertson was the only player in danger of missing the quarter-final first leg through suspension, and his last-gasp booking was both avoidable and potentially damaging.
The Scot has become an indispensable member of this Liverpool team and they will lose both defensive quality and an attacking thrust without him in the next round.
It was far from Robertson’s best night on the whole, in truth, and his lapse in concentration allowed Serge Gnabry to ghost in behind, cross into the middle and force Joel Matip into scoring an own goal.
Still, we’ll allow him the odd off night from time to time, considering how magnificent he has been in a Reds shirt.
Quarter-Finals Here We Come…
Confidence wasn’t especially high going into the game, particularly given some of the insipid performances produced in big away games this season.
Liverpool progressed in style, however, even if they weren’t always at their most fluent best.
What awaits them now is an extremely open Champions League draw, with Premier League trio Man City, Tottenham and Man United all present, as well as Juventus, Barcelona, Ajax and Porto.
This is anyone’s to win and Liverpool will believe they can going one better than 2017/18 and banish the heartbreak of Kyiv.
Friday’s draw is sure to be a must-watch for any Reds supporter and Porto are the obvious side many will be hoping to be drawn against.
Will it be another quarter-final against City? Could Liverpool face United for the first time in the Champions League? Will Philippe Coutinho return to Anfield with Barca?
All will be revealed.