After a tense affair at the Allianz Arena Liverpool prevail, beating Bayern Munich 3-1 on aggregate to go through to the Champions League quarter-finals.
It was a tentative opening 25 minutes but Liverpool struck first, Sadio Mane perfectly controlling from a defence-splitting Virgil van Dijk pass, before rounding Manuel Neuer and floating the ball into the back of the net. Mane’s goal seemed to awaken the sleeping Bavarian beast and they responded soon after, Joel Matip turning the ball into his own net after Serge Gnabry fired a wicked delivery into the corridor of uncertainty.
The onus was Bayern to attack, but Liverpool came out in the second half and finished the job off with headed goals from Virgil van Dijk and Mane once more.
And so, with Liverpool rampant in Germany what did we learn?
1. Main man Mane
It was always bound to be the man in form who would break the deadlock this evening, Mane, a model of consistency in recent weeks scored a quite outrageous goal this evening, killing the ball from a lofty Van Dijk pass before calmly rolling Neuer and dinking the ball over a retreating Rafinha.
The Senegal international was a portrait of placidity under the pressure of an onrushing Neuer and a backtracking Rafinha, momentarily silencing the 75,000 Bavarians packed in the Allianz Arena with his 18th goal of the season.
Sadio Mané has now scored a goal in every round of the #UCL since the start of last season:
✓ Group stage
✓ Round of 16
✓ Group stage
✓ Round of 16
The cycle continues pic.twitter.com/MlGhZGN1zN
— Coral (@Coral) March 13, 2019
With Joshua Kimmich suspended, Liverpool needed to capitalise on his absence and expose his ageing replacement, Rafinha, and they duly took advantage, with Mane coming to the fore, netting his ninth – and then later 10th – goal across his last 10 appearances for the club.
The incisive winger is fast becoming the central fulcrum of Klopp’s side, stepping up where others have fallen short in recent times, and he has now engraved his name in Liverpool history by scoring more away goals in European Cup and Champions League history than any other player. His brace on one the grandest of all stages showed just why he is Klopp’s MVP at the moment.
2. The best in the world?
In a week former centre-back virtuoso Rio Ferdinand declared Sergio Ramos the best centre-back in the world ahead of Van Dijk, the Dutchman responded in resounding fashion, producing a display of elite quality this evening.
The 27-year-old held the core of the team together tonight, once again showcasing his worth and proving imperious defensively by stifling the attacking prowess of Robert Lewandowski. He was the harmonious weave of Klopp’s side, meanly locking up the centre of defence in expert fashion.
Virgil Van Dijk is the first centre-back to both score and assist a goal in a single #UCL game this season.
Get yourself a centre-back that can do both. 💁♂️ pic.twitter.com/Jmi5MD6gi5
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 13, 2019
But it wasn’t just his performance in the first third that caught the eye, he produced the ball of the game to set up Mane for Liverpool’s opening goal, collecting the ball from deep before spotting the run of his teammate and then dispatching an Andrea Pirlo-esque defence-splitting pass.
He followed that up by scoring a thumping header later on, taking the tie beyond Bayern’s reach and giving his side significant breathing room when the match was on a knife edge – his goal has now ensured he has netted three goals in his last four games for the Reds.
3. Klopp spot on
In a match a goalless stalemate would have sent Liverpool through, Klopp refused to conform to stereotype and park the bus, instead finding the perfect synthesis between attack and defence, deploying a perfect midfield trident as well as an attacking trio that thwarted a toothless Bayern.
Indeed Kovac was naive with his tactics, testing the water early on and biding his time, when in truth the Bavarians needed to come out guns blazing and make a statement. By the time he tweaked his system the dynamic changed, with the pendulum firmly swinging in Liverpool’s favour after Mane netted the opener.
From there, the Reds were comfortable, a Matip own goal against the run of play enhanced nerves, but those were soon put to bed after Van Dijk scored a bullet header with 20 minutes to go – this was a masterclass from Klopp across both legs.
Liverpool lost all three of their away games in the Champions League group stage so there would have been a sense of apprehension in the dressing room, but Klopp’s juggernaut produced a professional performance. Even when captain Jordan Henderson came off injured his players stepped up to the mark, with Fabinho assured in the middle of the park.
4. End of an era
Franck Ribery showed plenty of heart and grit tonight but it is clear the Frenchman is not quite the player he once was; given he turns 36 next month that is completely understandable – he completed just 40 per cent of his dribbles this evening, and failed to have a shot on goal or create a single key pass.
And so, it appears the end of a dynasty for Bayern with their once devastating set of wingers on the wane and possibly on the move. Ribery’s contract is up at the end of the season while Arjen Robben has already declared his departure from the club.
The question is where next for Bayern? These two were the main catalysts of Bayern’s intense stranglehold on German football the past decade, delivering countless cut-ins and take-ons on a weekly basis in the Bundesliga, while also helping the club to European dominance in 2013.
The night finished with Gnabry and Kingsley Coman on the pitch for Bayern, and while the former has seemingly come of age this season, the latter is yet to rediscover his early Bavarian form having been hampered by injury – the pair failed to produce at Anfield, and failed to inspire tonight, though both are still young and have plenty to learn.
5. Neuer joins elite GK club
He wasn’t quite able to mark the milestone with a trademark clean sheet but Manuel Neuer has now joined an illustrious club of goalkeepers who have made 100 Champions League appearances. He now ranks alongside legendary glovemen in the mould of Oliver Kahn, Victor Valdes, Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas and Petr Cech.
His century of appearances in Europe’s premier tournament also means he has become only the fourth Bayern Munich player to reach that mark, with the centurion now joining Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller and again Oliver Kahn in that department.
His career has been blighted by a metatarsal fracture the previous two seasons, but the experienced German shot-stopper is fast finding his feet again and proving an invaluable commodity between the sticks for Kovac this campaign.
The 32-year-old commanded his box in his usual authoritative manner, but he was absolutely done like a kipper when Mane deceptively turned him for Liverpool’s opening goal; one might argue a younger, fitting Neuer wouldn’t have been exposed like that, but sometimes you have to just marvel at the brilliance and skill from the forward.