Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp turning doubters into believers
Liverpool won a game that will be talked about for generations – a Europa League quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund that will live forever in the memory of all at Anfield.
Emotion. Drama. Excitement. Brilliant football. Noise. Colour. And all this even before Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren rose high at the far post in front of The Kop in injury time to secure a 4-3 victory that will rank alongside the great dramas staged at this sporting theatre.
It was played out to the backdrop of Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s almost crazed touchline demeanour and the young coach who succeeded him at Borussia Dortmund, the gifted and wonderfully dignified Thomas Tuchel.
Liverpool moved a step closer to earning a place in the Champions League by winning what some regard as Europe’s second-rate pot – not a label anyone was attaching to it after this classic.
Klopp makes Liverpool believers
When Klopp was introduced as Liverpool manager as successor to sacked Brendan Rodgers in October, he revealed one of his priorities was to “turn doubters into believers”.
And it was the transition from doubt to belief that was at the core of this remarkable Liverpool victory, both on the pitch and in the stands. If there was a trace of doubt this result would not have happened.
In nine blistering minutes from the first whistle, this wonderful Borussia Dortmund side simply tore Liverpool apart, with two goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – it was a time for doubts but Klopp delivered inspiration.
Liverpool needed three goals, leaving Klopp to invoke the spirit of Istanbul and the Champions League Final won from 3-0 down at half-time against AC Milan in 2005, saying: “Even if it is not likely it is possible, so we should try.”
And yet this was a mountain Liverpool had to try to climb twice, Divock Origi opened the door but Marco Reus shut it again to leave three goals needed in 33 minutes.
It was time for believers, time for that notion Klopp talked about within minutes of walking into Anfield to be acted upon. And it was as Liverpool completed a turnaround that will become a touchstone for the Klopp era with goals from Philippe Coutinho, Mamadou Sakho and the late drama from Lovren.
Borussia Dortmund possessed class in abundance and that opening phase was jaw-dropping – but Liverpool simply broke them by sheer force of will and a refusal to give up.
It takes us back to more words from Klopp. After Liverpool lost 2-1 to Crystal Palace at Anfield in November he was taken aback at supporters leaving early, saying it made him feel alone and adding: “We decide when it’s over.”
This was a phrase that could have been stamped on the foreheads of Liverpool’s players on Thursday – a symbol of the Klopp approach that will be at the heart of everything they do.
If anyone entered Anfield as a doubter they will have been a confirmed and committed believer by the time they left.
Anfield high on emotion
This night had a special feel even in the hours before kick-off as Anfield was splashed in colour, the yellow and black flags of Borussia Dortmund facing off against the red and white of Liverpool on The Kop.
Before the teams emerged, Anfield was serenaded by arguably the longest version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” ever heard at the stadium, Gerry Marsden’s voice turned off and Liverpool’s supporters taking over, the old anthem returning several times after a brief silence.
A minute’s silence to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 supporters died was perfectly observed, Anfield a cauldron of emotions.
It was Liverpool who looked the more nervous side in the opening stages, cut to pieces by high-class opponents who were not intimidated by the searing atmosphere.
Slowly, after a brief and shocked lull caused by a 2-0 deficit, the sound came back to deafening volume and Borussia were unnerved to the point where their resolve was broken.
Klopp was a man possessed on the touchline, waving his arms to demand greater encouragement for his players, pointing at his mouth while facing the fans to demand even more noise. It ended up providing a soundtrack to a momentous night.
Tuchel said: “When Liverpool equalised you noticed the change. There was belief in the stadium and a feeling it was meant to be. Both sets of fans were fantastic and that was one of the best atmospheres ever at a football match.”
Klopp added: “It was brilliant, outstanding, emotional, everything. I will not forget it because it was special. I know this is a place for big football moments. We didn’t start these stories but it is now our responsibility to try and write some more nice stories.”
There was certainly a new, unlikely chapter written at Anfield last night.
Liverpool’s good and bad
In the afterglow of such sporting brilliance, there was little time for analysis of the nuts and bolts of Liverpool’s performance. It was a time to simply reflect on the wonder of what we had witnessed.
And yet, when there is time for reflection, it will reveal much of what is good – and still bad – about Liverpool.
Divock Origi’s goal, his fourth in his past three games, was a piece of composure that confirmed his growing stature and that qualities that persuaded Klopp to pick the 20-year-old ahead of Daniel Sturridge.
Even as Liverpool battled Dortmund’s supremacy, Origi showed power, pace and a willingness to fight. Very much the Klopp template, recalling the words of his manager after his first game in charge at Tottenham six months ago: “We’re going to have a lot of fun with this player.”
How good is Liverpool’s record in European competitions?
Emre Can has had a mixed season but was outstanding before picking up an injury, while Coutinho sprinkles the stardust on this Liverpool team.
It seems like splitting hairs after such a glorious spectacle, but Liverpool still have a vulnerability at the back that will surely be addressed by Klopp in the summer.
Alberto Moreno is a weak link at left-back and while Sakho may be a popular figure with supporters, talking of “a win for the Liverpool country” and taking selfies on the pitch with Origi, close inspection suggests his positional play was something of an adventure for Dortmund’s goals.
One thing is clear, however, and qualifies as the biggest plus of all – in the space of six months Klopp has imprinted his identity on his new players and Liverpool’s fans. The evidence was all over Anfield.
Can Liverpool win it?
Most definitely – indeed many felt the winner of this tie would go on to claim the trophy. It was not a notion welcomed or encouraged by Klopp.
Sevilla, winners for the last two seasons, still lurk after beating Athletic Bilbao on penalties while another Spanish side Villarreal and Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine make up a high-powered last four.
But there is almost the spirit of Champions League 2005 about Liverpool’s run in the Europa League. Back then Liverpool moved along with no great expectation to not only find themselves in the final but winning it.
Klopp will guard against any complacency but the way in which Liverpool pulled off an extraordinary feat on Thursday will give them growing confidence that no task is too onerous for them at Anfield in the semi-finals.
The Europa League is not the only prize within reach – a return to the Champions League via victory in this tournament is now tantalisingly coming into view.
And don’t touch the sign
The famous “This Is Anfield” sign has greeted players on the path to the pitch for decades – many touch it for luck and Klopp even did so himself on a visit to the stadium for a friendly when coach of Borussia Dortmund.
It carries an aura but Klopp has put a banning order on his players, saying: “I’ve told my players you need to win something before you touch the ‘This Is Anfield’. It’s a sign of respect. You don’t do it – it is too big.”
Klopp has delivered another incentive to his Liverpool charges.
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