Like those production line romantic-comedies that sees two best friends realise that they were always in love, marry and, well, the rest you know; Liverpool FC and Borussia Dortmund have had an affinity for a number of years now and this ‘rom-com’ analogy was reaffirmed when they were drawn together in the Europa League quarter final last month. The coming together of two clubs famed on their fan base, their atmosphere, their history and of course that shared anthem. Oh, did I forget to mention that bloke in the glasses as well? I will get to that at some point. So, just like those best friends, the love, the public shows of affection, the anticipation of finally coming together could begin.
Dubbed the ‘El Kloppico’, the main factor leading to the mutual excitement between these two clubs was of course the man himself; Jurgen Klopp. After two Bundesliga titles, one DFB-Pokal and a Champions League final, his homecoming was highly anticipated by the Dortmund fans, the man is a legend around there, that’s for sure. On the flipside of things, Jurgen’s appointment at Liverpool has been a huge success so far, maybe not in league points, but in being able to instil hope back into the players and the fans. The Reds fans firmly believe that Klopp is the right man to lead them to glory, and who would argue with that? Cue half of Manchester…
One for the neutrals: a lot of sports journalists had backed this match as the most exciting fixture of both this competition and the Champions League. Outrageous claims? Not really. The stage was set, homecoming of old Kloppy, Liverpool and Dortmund’s love affair, a full stadium singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and not forgetting the amount of quality on the pitch (I might start talking about the football soon). Some of the player match-ups were always going to be mouth-watering; who will outperform who? Reus vs Coutinho, Sturridge vs Aubameyang, Sakho vs Hummels, and so on.
Finally the day arrived, the Westfalenstadion was poised and ready, majestically waiting under the lights for the action to begin. Klopp had been in fine form as per usual in his pre-match press conference stating that it is better to be in Dortmund than… North Korea. Once Klopp had finished bowing to the yellow wall, and one of the most incredible ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ renditions had been sung by 60,000 people, the world was ready for the whistle.
Dortmund came out the traps as expected. Dominating possession and spending a lot of time in the final third of the pitch. Klopp had organised his defence for this type of onslaught and it was clear that defensive discipline was a key part of the Reds’ game plan. Sakho, with all the grace of a deer on ice, was his usual brick wall, throwing himself in front of every effort from the men in yellow. Early efforts from Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan were seen off as both Liverpool centre backs put in nothing less than 100% effort and determination.
The first chance for Liverpool came from a Milner set-piece that allowed Dejan Lovren to get his head on to it and drilling the ball into the ground but always at Weidenfeller, an opportunity missed. But in the 40th minute Origi, controversially started in front of Sturridge, broke through on goal and coolly slotted it away to give Liverpool the lead. The red flares were lit and the brilliant travelling Kop, understandably, went crazy. Next followed some nervy defending to take that lead to half time as Dortmund went back to controlling the game in front of Mignolet’s box. Although a second chance arrived for Divock Origi when he went one-on-one with Roman Weidenfeller just before the break but was well saved – that would have given Liverpool an incredible end to the first half where defensive discipline and team organisation prevailed for Klopp’s men.
The second half started just like the first. Dortmund were back on the ball and after just a few minutes a set piece saw Mats Hummels break free from his markers to thump a header past Mignolet. 1-1 and the stadium erupted. Liverpool reacted well and had a 30 second period which saw 3 shots on target but Weidenfeller pulled off some world-class saves to deny Liverpool and keep the score level. The match then continued in Dortmund’s favour, complete domination in possession but the real story of success comes from Liverpool’s organisation to continue soaking up Die Schwarzgelben’s pressure and repeatedly pushing them back up to the half way line. Eventually the final whistle was blown and it is fair to say that the old cliché, “the only winner here is football” is appropriate.
Although some may argue it wasn’t one of Dortmund’s greatest performances, credit has to go to Klopp and the Liverpool player’s tactical masterclass on how to soak up pressure and play counter attacking football. Although this brief match analysis mainly talks about Liverpool’s defensive duties, the counter-attack was also utilised very effectively as Liverpool managed the second most shots on target at the Westfalenstadion this season (13), only second to Bayern Munich (17). Adam Lallana stated afterwards: “Our execution of Jurgen Klopp’s game plan was almost perfect. We knew they’d be dominant, especially in possession but we were ready to pick off their mistakes and exploit them in behind”.
Klopp’s new boys have put themselves in the driving seat in this tie before the second leg at Anfield on Thursday; it is perfectly poised to be another memorable match. For another week at least we can watch this love affair continue as Liverpool are sure to warmly welcome Borussia Dortmund back at Anfield. But who will come out on top, looks like we will just have to wait and see.