Jurgen Klopp continues his record of not losing a European tie with Liverpool (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Two goals from Sadio Mane helped Liverpool beat Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena and reach the Champions League quarter-finals for the second successive season.
Bayern boss Niko Kovac set his team up in a 4-3-3 shape on paper, which often shifted into a 4-2-3-1 with James Rodriguez moving forward into the attacking midfield role. Without possession, Rodriguez would join the offensive line alongside Poland captain Robert Lewandowski, switching the formation to a 4-4-2.
Liverpool had also used the 4-3-3 formation however kept a 4-5-1 shape for the majority of the game to hit Bayern on the counter.
Did Bayern plan their attack?
Mats Hummels was key for “The Bavarians” in attempting to beat Liverpool’s pressing game. Franck Ribery stayed high and wide and it was the job of Hummels to find him and isolate young full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold into a 1v1 battle against the Frenchman. The diagonal ball from Hummels to Ribery encouraged David Alaba to make underlapping runs in Liverpool’s defensive line. The plan worked for a while until Jurgen Klopp sensed the danger and got Mohamed Salah to join Alexander-Arnold in coping with Ribery, which he did an excellent job on doing for the full 90.
Van Dijk and Mane – the unusual combination…
Sadio Mane was up against veteran full-back Rafinha for Wednesday’s tie, which he would’ve definitely cherished ahead of the game with German international Joshua Kimmich being suspended. Mane moved out wide in hope of dragging Rafinha across to mark him, creating a huge gap in between the centre back and full back. The forward then signaled to Van Dijk, who had possession, to play the long ball in that gap. Liverpool hasn’t just benefited from Van Dijk’s defensive ability but also with his composure on the ball. His passing accuracy is staggering at 90% and he plays an average of six long passes per game; on this occasion that passes proved to be crucial as Mane’s effort found the back of the net to give Liverpool the all-important away goal.
Downsides to Liverpool’s defensive display
Robert Lewandowski was very much isolated throughout the game with Van Dijk and Matip on his heels at every instance. The striker proved to show his intelligence by dropping deep and pulling out one of the central defenders to allow runners in behind to create a 2v2. Liverpool’s high defensive line didn’t help themselves as the Bayern players made good runs to break the offside-trap. The equalizer came due to poor concentration from left-back Andy Robertson, allowing Serge Gnabry to get in behind and force an own goal from Joel Matip. Klopp was furious at his team’s poor organization to move up as a unit and looked to switch things at the turn of the break.
Bayern can’t beat the press!
The second half brought out more energy from Klopp’s team as they looked to press aggressively and force Bayern into playing a game they often don’t. The long passes from the defense were rushed and became a waste as Bayern lost possession on numerous occasions. They were running out of ideas and decided to put Lewandowski out wide as he was completely dominated by the Liverpool defense (He managed to win 33% of aerial battles against Matip and Van Dijk). Kovac brought on his attacking firepower in Coman, Goretzka, and Sanches although it wasn’t enough to break the midfield and defense of Liverpool as they waited to hit Bayern on the counter and were successful in getting the forwards in 1v1 battles late on. A brace from Mane and a bullet header from Van Dijk gave Liverpool fans a night to remember on another European away day for the Reds.
Liverpool the strongest ahead of the quarterfinals?
Jurgen Klopp will feel confident his team can go all the way despite having a greater focus on the Premier League this year. The latter rounds of the Champions League look to be intriguing as four English clubs make the final 8 for the first time since 2009.
Teams Remaining: Barcelona, Ajax, Spurs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Porto, and Juventus.