Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk take Liverpool past Bayern Munich

Daniel Taylor at the Allianz Arena on 13 March 2019

It was a night when Liverpool reminded themselves why a banner can be seen at their games to proclaim “European football royalty”. And, finally, when the action was over, Jürgen Klopp was running across the pitch to pump his fists towards the Liverpool supporters in the highest tier of this spectacular stadium. His players could celebrate a hugely satisfying night of mature and controlled football and, for the first time since 2009, the Premier League had four teams in the quarter-finals.

Not that Liverpool’s euphoria at the final whistle was, in any way, on behalf of the other English sides who will make up half of Friday’s draw. Liverpool have their own priorities, as five-times winners of this competition, and it is not often that Bayern are made to look so ordinary, especially on their own ground. Yes, the evidence is irrefutable that Bayern are on the wane, epitomised by the deterioration in the once-formidable Franck Ribéry, and that the 28-times Bundesliga champions might have gone stale, perhaps as a consequence of all their repetitive domestic success. Yet that should not deflect from Liverpool’s performance on a night when Klopp’s players defended stoutly, were clinical with their chances and, more than anything, never showed a flicker of trepidation.

Perhaps, on reflection, Bayern will regret not being more adventurous in the first leg. It was premature to celebrate on the pitch, as they did at Anfield, on the back of a goalless draw. The whole point of the away-goals rule is to encourage teams to attack. Bayern opted for ploys of conservatism on Merseyside whereas Liverpool were far more ambitious with their approach to being on foreign soil, culminating in two goals from Sadio Mané, one from Virgil van Dijk and Klopp reflecting afterwards on a “big, big step for us” – one, he said, that put Liverpool back on the landscape of elite European football.

In the vertiginous rows of seats where Liverpool’s followers were congregated, there must have been a wonderful sense of deja vu, too. There will be plenty of Liverpool supporters who remember what happened in 1981, at the old Olympiastadion, when a goalless first leg at Anfield was followed by a 1-1 draw that put Bob Paisley’s team into the final. This time, Liverpool posted an even more impressive result – though it is also worth noting that when the game was poised at 1-1 there were only sporadic moments when Bayern threatened to change the complexion of the evening.

Liverpool, on the other hand, showed real belief and Mané’s opening goal, 26 minutes into the first half, meant Bayern would need at least two of their own to save themselves. They did manage one, via an own goal from Joël Matip, but Klopp made the point afterwards that he could not recall too many other occasions when Liverpool were endangered. Van Dijk’s goal came after 69 minutes and when Mané scored his second of the night their supporters could see out the remainder of the game by happily going through their victory songs. Their team were even applauded off by some of the Bayern fans close to the tunnel.

For Mané in particular, it was a triumphant night. Arguably Liverpool’s most effective attacker since the turn of the year, these were his 18th and 19th goals of the season. Ten have come in the last 10 games and his first one here was a wonderfully composed finish once he had controlled a long ball forward, swivelled away from Rafinha and sidestepped Manuel Neuer to create the shooting opportunity. Neuer’s decision to run out to the edge of his penalty area was a poor one, leaving the goalkeeper stranded, but there were still plenty of Bayern players who could have covered if Mané’s chipped shot did not have the right leverage. Mané pitched it towards the far corner and the ball floated delicately inside the post, almost in slow motion.

Behind that goal there was a huge banner – among the derogatory ones making it clear that Bayern’s supporters are not admirers of either VAR or Uefa – that read: “Kampfen Munich.” For a while, that is exactly what Liverpool’s opponents seemed willing to do: fight. Bayern are simply not the type to crumple and they were level seven minutes before half-time when Serge Gnabry managed to get behind Andrew Robertson for the first time. Gnabry’s low cross-shot was fired in from the right and Matip inadvertently turned the ball past Alisson from close range.

The problem for Bayern had nothing to do with a lack of endeavour. It was a lack of ideas, of inspiration, of wit and creativity. Liverpool were compact and organised, despite losing their captain Jordan Henderson, with an ankle injury. Trent Alexander-Arnold, in particular, gave Ribéry little space to dispel the theory that the winger is no longer the devastatingly brilliant footballer he once was. Van Dijk had the better of Robert Lewandowski while James Rodríguez could not influence the night. Bayern might have membership in Europe’s elite but, over the two legs, they looked like a team that might have to be reinvented.

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Van Dijk’s goal came from a corner on the right, swung over by James Milner, and the centre-half’s ability to climb higher than his opponents, despite the close proximity of Mats Hummels and Javi Martínez, before aiming a downward header inside Neuer’s near post.

Bayern needed something spectacular to turn the game upside down. It was beyond them and Liverpool’s victory was assured in the 84th minute when Mohamed Salah, who improved as the game wore on, flicked over a cross with the outside of his left boot for Mané to head in their third goal.

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