Sadio Mane’s brace inspired Liverpool to a convincing 3-1 win at Bayern Munich, and a place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Fabinho, a surprise omission from the Liverpool starting XI, was soon pressed into action when Jordan Henderson suffered an early ankle injury.
The visitors settled well despite that setback, and moments after Roberto Firmino flashed a snapshot wide, Mane brilliantly brought down Van Dijk’s raking ball, spun a needlessly marauding Manuel Neuer and chipped in a sublime finish.
Liverpool’s lead lasted until six minutes before half-time when Serge Gnabry darted in behind Andy Robertson and Matip put through his own goal with Robert Lewandowski lurking.
Neuer dealt unconvincingly with a well-hit Mohamed Salah drive that went straight at him in the 50th minute, with Bayern struggling for rhythm.
Gnabry remained a reliable outlet – not to mention a menace for Robertson – and he whipped a dangerous ball between the goal-mouth and a sliding Lewandowski as the hour passed.
However, the Poland striker would have liked to give Van Dijk far more work before the defender rose at the back post to power home James Milner’s 69th-minute corner.
Bayern were finished and Mane added late gloss on the end of Salah’s floated cross.
What does it mean? Premier League era begins as Bayern’s ends
Bayern last fell at this stage of the competition in 2011, going on to win the Champions League two years later. Four semi-finals in the subsequent five seasons followed, but age has caught up with a fine side, and a revamp is necessary, with the likes of Gnabry and Joshua Kimmich – badly missed through suspension in the second leg – set to have key roles.
The all-Bundesliga final against Borussia Dortmund was an emphatic statement 12 months before Germany lifted the World Cup. Club and national team success do not necessarily go together, but Liverpool joining Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham in the quarter-finals should cheer those who revelled in Gareth Southgate’s England reaching the semi-finals of Russia 2018.
Van Dijk underlines player-of-the-season credentials
A game-breaking contribution from the Netherlands centre back added more emphasis to his importance to Liverpool, as if the tangible sense of panic surrounding his suspension from the first leg wasn’t enough already. Van Dijk was typically colossal here, with Lewandowski feeding off scraps as his marker helped himself to an assist and a memorable goal.
Neuer decline sad to witness
Throughout this golden period for Bayern, Neuer has rightly been considered the premier goalkeeper in world football. However, injuries have taken an awful toll on the 32-year-old, whose muddled decision-making led to Mane’s opener. He pawed behind for the corner that led to Van Dijk’s winner – the lack of authority inside his own six-yard box a sorry sight.
Liverpool will return to the top of the Premier League on Sunday if they beat lowly Fulham, with Manchester City in FA Cup action a day earlier at Swansea. Bayern entertain Mainz as they remain neck-and-neck with Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund.
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