Van Dijk not missed as patched-up Liverpool stifle Lewandowski
Robert Lewandowski drew a rare blank as he failed to exploit Virgil van Dijk being suspended, but Bayern Munich arguably have the edge over Liverpool after a goalless first leg at Anfield.
Van Dijk's absence was billed as a crucial factor in Tuesday's clash of the titans - a last-16 tie that felt deserving of semi-final status if not the showpiece itself - with two high-powered sides who wanted to play the game at full speed without ever pausing to catch breath.
Liverpool mostly held Bayern at bay despite being without the most expensive defender in world football. Lewandowski - the top scorer in this season's Champions League with eight goals - lurked as a malevolent presence close to Van Dijk's deputy Fabinho whenever Bayern had the ball, but they could not create a chance for him to take.
Indeed, the Bundesliga champions did not muster a single shot on target, although the hosts could only manage two themselves. Lewandowski touched the ball just twice in Liverpool's box during the first half and when he did get on the ball near Alisson's goal shortly after the restart, Fabinho snuffed out his threat.
Alisson promised pre-match Liverpool would not "feel that loss" with Van Dijk unable to play due to his ban, claiming Liverpool were drilled so well it would make little difference despite his price and profile, and he was proved right with Lewandowski stifled.
0 - Each of Bayern Munich’s last three visits to Anfield in European competition have finished 0-0, with the Germans now having failed to score in all four of their away games against Liverpool. Null. pic.twitter.com/TSw30k59mK— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 19, 2019
Van Dijk has not missed a single minute of Liverpool's brilliant Premier League season, but suggestions he has been the sole factor in the Reds' rise looked out of place following this fine team display. Fabinho and Joel Matip may be a makeshift pairing, but they were not outclassed. Mats Hummels was similarly outstanding at the back for Bayern.
The key individual battle of the game instead developed on Liverpool's left wing where Sadio Mane gave the excellent Joshua Kimmich a working over, the likes of which he does not usually get in domestic football.
Mane tricked Kimmich into receiving a first-half booking, which will rule the Germany international out of the second leg, but he could not find the target with a brace of overhead-kick attempts before the break. Liverpool may feel Mane could have targeted Kimmich more in the second period as his yellow seemed a rare soft spot in the Bayern side.
With both sides determined to close down the other at every possible opportunity, Manuel Neuer and Alisson had moments where they looked briefly uncomfortable.
The prospect of Roberto Firmino bearing down on goal, seemingly at a million miles an hour, was not welcomed by Bayern's captain. It was hard to believe Firmino had been a doubt due to an illness that forced him to miss training. His energy levels appeared to be as high as ever until he dramatically faded in the second half and had to be replaced by wildcard option Divock Origi.
Mistakes in possession were too common from both sides, the rapid tempo of the match meaning players were regularly harried and harassed into misplacing passes.
And that lack of clarity continued in front of goal where the prolific Mohamed Salah wasted the clearest openings of the game for Liverpool. They may just rue his misses in Munich.