Liverpool fans can dare to dream of a double after watching their team ruthlessly dispatch Bayern Munich and march into the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Though the Reds were disjointed at times, a combination of quality and killer instinct was enough to secure one of their most impressive victories of the season.
Bayern, who almost always figure in this last four of the competition, were rebuffed with relative ease. After failing to muster a single shot in the target in the first leg, they managed just two on their own patch.
Amidst the overwhelming intensity of the title run-in, this was a reminder of Liverpool’s immense strength.
There was no 21st clean sheet of the season for Alisson, who could do nothing to prevent Joel Matip’s unfortunate own goal. It was certainly a quieter night than he may have feared.
Matip and Virgil van Dijk played a part in that inactivity by shielding him expertly. Matip shook off the disappointment of poking through his own net by turning in an excellent second-half display, continuing a run of form which has seen many of his doubters fall silent. It’s fair to say Robert Lewandowski will be glad to see the back of him.
The remarkably dependable Van Dijk, meanwhile, this time grabbed headlines for his attacking contributions. First, there was an assist, a delightfully executed ball to Sadio Mane, whose run he spotted instantaneously, and then a fourth goal of the season – the game’s decisive moment. Reds fans are, rightly, in awe at his alarming range of abilities.
On the right, Trent Alexander-Arnold was reasonably solid, regaining possession on six occasions, though he was nearly caught out once or twice as he surged up the pitch. Fellow full-back Andrew Robertson will be somewhat disappointed with his performance, having been outfoxed and shrugged off by Serge Gnabry in the lead-up to Bayern’s goal. He ended the night with a needless booking which will sideline him for the first leg of the quarterfinal. A rare dip from the Scot.
Another who struggled a touch was Fabinho, whose absence from the starting eleven raised eyebrows. Klopp’s decision to start Jordan Henderson looked justified as his replacement misplaced too many passes and invited a Bayern charge. Fortunately, he regained his composure after a jittery spell.
Klopp’s midfield was clearly geared towards work-rate, and sure enough, he got tireless shifts from Gini Wijnaldum and James Milner. Gini has played an awful lot of football of late but his application was unwavering, while Milner, typically, covered every blade grass. It was the veteran’s cross – a sizeable improvement on many of Liverpool’s recent setpiece deliveries – which Van Dijk powered in for the second.
Roberto Firmino was largely quiet but, playing once again as a striker-winger-central midfielder, ran his socks off. It says a lot that only Matip made more tackles than the no.9.
There was no end to Mo Salah’s mini-drought, but this was another game in which he demonstrated that his contribution extends well beyond goals. He tormented Bayern with a series of dribbling runs – one of which would have resulted in a penalty had he gone down under a sliding challenge from Rafinha – before producing a delightful cross to Mane, who put the result beyond any doubt.
Liverpool fans have recognised for some time than Salah’s role is evolving, that he’s becoming a more complete footballer. Now the media are beginning to take notice.
But there’s only really one winner in the MOTM stakes this time.
Mane is in the form of his life. He’s now scored 10 goals in his last 10 games and is just one behind Salah, who, of course, sent records tumbling last season, at the top of the Liverpool charts. The Reds’ form has dipped slightly since the turn of the year, but Mane has come alive, arguably preserving his team’s domestic and European ambitions.
What’s more, he’s emerging as a real big game player. This memorable double continues a scintillating Champions League knockout scoring streak, stretching back to the visit to Porto last year. Consider that he’s also netted against Manchester United and Arsenal this season, and run riot against the top six in previous years, and it’s clear he thrives on the big occasion.
His first goal at the Allianz gets better with every viewing. He brought down Van Dijk’s ball, spun around Manuel Neuer and proceeded to loft the ball into the far corner with merciless precision. It bore hallmarks of Salah’s now iconic goal at the Etihad last season and was an illustration of his supreme confidence.
His second showcased his growing potency in the air. Having produced powerful headed efforts against Bournemouth and Watford, he found room at the back post and nodded Salah’s delivery past a once again helpless Neuer.
Aside from his goals, Mane was a constant menace. When he’s in the mood, he looks like he can trick his way through a maze of defenders – at one point in the second half he threatened to embarrass about half of Bayern’s team. At the moment, it feels like something spectacular is always around the corner.
Indeed, a red-hot Mane is a truly terrifying prospect for defences. We’ve seen this since his debut season at Anfield when he conjured up moments of devastating brilliance against Arsenal and Spurs. The concoction of speed, power and trickery make him irrepressible at his best.
There’s something almost wickedly satisfying about the fact that the wider footballing world doesn’t seem to understand what he’s capable of.
But they’ll certainly take notice if he maintains this incredible momentum and, perhaps, fires Liverpool to glory.