‘One small step for Mane, one giant leap for Van Dijk’ - How Liverpool gave Klopp his greatest night
Jurgen Klopp watched his razor-sharp Liverpool side produce a landmark victory in Munich, easily the most mature performance of his time at the club, writes Desmond Kane.
One small step for Mane, one giant leap for Van Dijk. Liverpool’s rampant rocket men left Jurgen Klopp over the moon in Munich after producing a level of continental class laced with a maturity, industry and game management hewn from the finest traditions of the five-time European champions. A trip down memory lane? Perhaps. Klopp's greatest night as Liverpool manager? Unquestionably.
As slick as a BMW with the heart of an Audi. This was a rasping Liverpool night of Vorsprung Durch Technik in Bavaria. Led by the imperious £75m man Virgil van Dijk and their main Mane, the visiting side outclassed the Bundesliga champions and leaders, who have failed to reached the last eight of this tournament for the first time in eight years.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes the win over Bayern Munich was a significant step in their progressPA Sport
The nature of the 3-1 win has not yet been witnessed since the German martinet’s appointment in October 2015. He knew the significance of the moment.
“The boys love the competition, they really dig in these moments,” said Klopp. "The attitude was outstanding. The front three were outstanding, the boys who came on helped a lot.
"We've laid down a marker tonight that LFC is back on the top level of European football."
On the latest evening of Brexit farce back home, here was an export continuing to perform better in Europe than the frazzled political class in Blighty. Probably because it is run by a bloke from Stuttgart.
Klopp’s brilliant white front grill smiles brightly enough on such fraught evenings to be spotted from the moon alongside the Great Wall of China. Liverpool’s Teutonic excellence in the heart of enemy territory cannot be underestimated as they rendered impotent Niko Kovac’s Bayern, a free-wheeling team who had scored 11 times in their previous two outings.
Klopp has a built up a cannon of such nights, this was his 16th victory in 20 two-legged European matches at Liverpool, but was a bit special even by his own standards of excellence.
Overcoming his old club Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League semi-finals three years ago was rollicking entertainment while the wins over Manchester City and AS Roma during their glorious gallop to last season’s Champions League final were magnificently memorable, but also harum-scarum stuff.
Especially in the second legs when they were forced to scramble for their lives having done the hard part at home.
The 3-2 victory over Paris Saint-Germain on the opening night of this season’s tournament was blue-chip entertainment, but all of those matches were rousing because Liverpool never quite had them under their control. There was a nervous energy about such nights because they were forced to live on the edge of glory.
In Munich, Liverpool played within themselves and won quite comfortably. All the regret belonged to Bayern, who endured a tortuous experience.
Sadio Mane and Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool)Getty Images
This felt and resembled a tie that Liverpool knew they were going to win even when the German champions departed Anfield with a 0-0 draw three weeks ago. It turns out keeping a clean sheet at home was like money in the bank.
Liverpool were worthy winners, but they were also wise ones. They dominated the key duels, played the match in the right areas and were completely in control of their faculties on a stage where Munich tend to maul their opponents. Not tonight lads. Losing Jordan Henderson to a twisted ankle early wound up hurting the home team, who were forced to confront Roberto Firmino supporting Mane and Salah. Taming a bucking bronco is a more enviable thought.
“It was really difficult for Bayern,” said Klopp. "The second half was very mature.
"In the moments we did play football we immediately destroyed the organisation of Bayern. It's absolutely deserved."
Liverpool may not win the Premier League marathon, but they are built for the comparative sprint of the Champions League. Their propensity to get themselves out of a tight space in European football was never better illustrated than in the 26th minute when Mane collected a raking pass from Van Dijk.
Realising Manuel Neuer was as far from his line as the fans behind the home goal, he turned inside a second and clipped a delightful chip over the covering defenders and into the net. In the aptly titled Allianz Arena, Liverpool suddenly had a priceless insurance policy.
Bayern equalised when they appeared to contain little threat as Serge Gnabry sped beyond Andy Robertson before seeing his cutback turned into his own net by the unfortunate Joel Matip with the otherwise redundant Robert Lewandowski lurking.
Bayern icons Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Uli Hoeness celebrated with an air of expectation, but it was to be a mere blip on Liverpool’s landscape.
The formidable Rummenigge had scored the equaliser when these sides met in the semi-finals of the European Cup at the old Olympic Stadium in 1981, a 1-1 draw that saw Liverpool advance to the final and win their third European Cup over Real Madrid in Paris. Perhaps this will herald a similar voyage on their way to six.
Rather than rattle Liverpool, a befuddled Bayern played the role of compliant victims as passing suddenly became a problem confronted by Klopp's high press.
Neuer, Niklas Sule and Mat Hummels were part of the Germany defence that allowed Van Dijk to rescue a 2-2 draw for the Netherlands in the Nations League with a delightful finish in November after he scored in a 3-0 Dutch drubbing a month earlier. They knew about his dangers, but were powerless to prevent history from repeating itself.
Van Dijk is not only a central defender, but also a midfielder and a striker when needed. He just happens to play central defence when he could easily be deployed further up the field. He is easily among the best all-rounders in the world game, a sort of Gary Sobers in cleats.
In Van Dijk, they possess one of football's most technically gifted proponents, a player with more spring in his step than Munich fashion week and the pace of Ballyregan Bob. He is at one with the football and the demands of the modern game.
Van Dijk attacked James Milner’s corner on 69 minutes with as much relish as the Munich beer festival to plunge a header into the rigging. Mane applied the final dagger to the home team’s heart with a lovely diving header from Salah’s cross in the closing moments. It was his 10th goal in 10 games.
The hushed home fans were out of the exit door quicker than brickies being offered free Bratwurst. Bayern were left howling at the moon, with Franck Ribery's failure to torment the fledgling Trent Alexander-Arnold symbolic of a team probably out of time at this level, but time is firmly on Liverpool's side.
Their space odyssey has covered new ground under Klopp.