Reds back in the big league, says Klopp

Poetry in motion as Sadio Mane evades Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer's challenge before netting the opening goal. The Senegalese is now Liverpool's highest away scorer in the tournament, one ahead of the six goals each by Steven Gerrard and Roberto F
Poetry in motion as Sadio Mane evades Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer's challenge before netting the opening goal. The Senegalese is now Liverpool's highest away scorer in the tournament, one ahead of the six goals each by Steven Gerrard and Roberto Firmino.PHOTO: REUTERS

Liverpool make uninspired Bayern look pedestrian in Munich with composed show

MUNICH • It was a night when Liverpool reminded themselves and their opponents why a banner can be seen at their games to proclaim "European football royalty".

When the action was finally over, Jurgen Klopp ran across the pitch to pump his fists towards the Liverpool fans in the highest tier of Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena.

He was ecstatic, and deservedly so. Following the 3-1 Champions League last-16 second-leg win in the German champions' backyard on Wednesday, the Liverpool manager declared his team are back as one of European football's powerhouses.

Few would argue with him and his players could celebrate a satisfying night of mature and controlled football. And, for the first time since 2009, the English Premier League has four teams in the quarter-finals.

Liverpool had lost all their away games in the Champions League this season before Wednesday. But the win saw them join Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham in the last eight, while Germany will be without a quarter-finalist for the first time in 11 years.

"It is an important (win) for different reasons. Important money-wise but also confidence-wise," Klopp told reporters after the match.

"It's not about playing your best free-flowing football, that's not possible against this quality because you cannot use your speed as the other team is quick as well. You have to find different ways and tonight we found them.

"Liverpool's self-awareness now must be 'We are back. We are back on the landscape. Back in big football'. That was part of the plan when we started the project. We still have space for improvement but beating Bayern here is a big one."

Liverpool, five-time European champions and last season's Champions League runners-up, eased past the Bavarians with two goals from Sadio Mane and one from Virgil van Dijk after a goal-less first leg at Anfield.

The Reds shrugged off an early ankle injury to captain Jordan Henderson and kept their cool after Bayern's equaliser through Joel Matip's own goal late in the first half.

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It is an important (win) for different reasons. Important money-wise but also confidence-wise.

JURGEN KLOPP, Liverpool manager, on the significance of the result in Germany.

It was a intelligent, resilient and, when required, incisive display from Klopp's side.

Mane was magnificent in attack, James Milner immense in midfield and van Dijk, as usual, outstanding at the back.

It is not often that Bayern are made to look so ordinary, especially on their own ground. But the evidence is irrefutable that the 28-time Bundesliga champions are on the wane, possibly as a consequence of their repetitive domestic success.

Yet that should not deflect from Liverpool's performance on a night where Klopp's players defended stoutly, were clinical with their chances and never showed a flicker of trepidation.

Perhaps, on reflection, Bayern will regret not being more adventurous in the first leg. The whole point of the away-goals rule is to encourage teams to attack. But Bayern opted for ploys of conservatism at Anfield whereas Liverpool were far more ambitious with their approach to being on foreign soil.

For Mane 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 matches 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 float the ball delicately inside the post, almost in slow motion.

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.

Their coach Niko Kovac, thought otherwise, preferring to give credit to his counterpart after his team failed to respond to the two headed goals from Mane and van Dijk in the second half.

"I know Jurgen Klopp and he is very good at eliminating the opponents' strengths and he showed that again today," he said. "The 1-2 took away our belief. After that Liverpool was the better team."

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2019, with the headline 'Reds back in the big league, says Klopp'. Print Edition | Subscribe