TWO years ago this week Jürgen Klopp took the managerial reigns at Liverpool, four days after Brendan Rodgers was sacked. To celebrate two years of Klopp, here’s an exclusive extract from David Segar’s new book “Kloppite: One Man’s Quest to Turn Doubters into Believers” — which looks back on the highs and lows of the German’s first two seasons in English football — remembering what many would class as his best moment as Reds’ boss, the 5-4 aggregate win over his former club Borussia Dortmund…
THERE was a sense of inevitability that Jürgen Klopp would one day return to Dortmund to face his former charges, and the emotion of the reunion would make it a spectacle to behold. However, no one had anticipated that he would be back just 10 months later.
Klopp had said ahead of the quarter-final draw that he didn’t want to face Dortmund on the basis that they were the strongest team left in the Europa League. However, there was something about the way he said it, and the subsequent awkwardness of his press conferences around the game, where you got the sense that he would also rather not have had the circus of his return come around so quickly. That he wasn’t necessarily emotionally ready to go back and see his old friends and take on his old players.
Perhaps he also wanted to do it in the more grand setting of the Champions League, but due to the high-profile nature of the tie, you would have been forgiven for mistaking this for a Champions League clash.
Unsurprisingly, the media around the game was swelled to the max, especially in Germany. The fascination around Klopp had continued even after he’d left his native country to try his hand abroad, which was proven by the amount of coverage he had when returning to face Augsburg earlier in the competition.
Klopp was making every effort he could to keep the attention off himself and on the game. In the pre-match press conference James Milner joked that the players were feeling perfectly relaxed as all the media coverage had been taken up by the manager. Klopp was less light-hearted when informed that one TV station intended to have a “Klopp Cam”, which would just focus on his movements during the entire first leg at Signal Iduna Park. Klopp’s response was to threaten to boycott the channel, which worked as the plans were soon dropped.
Klopp mentioned that he had met some old friends at the club and was happily smiling and joking with them, but said that the eve of the game was for that kind of stuff, and that game day would be all about the 90 minutes and his team.
More than 20 television crews, twice as many photographers and about 100 journalists were present to hear him give his press conference.
“A lot has been said ahead of this match but it is easy for me as I just have friends here,” he said. “It is better to be here than, I don’t know, North Korea or something.
“We got here early so I had 20 minutes to catch up with old friends – it would have been daft not to have that chance.
“Tomorrow is different, we are focused on the game. If Dortmund score I won’t celebrate for sure but I never plan if I am going to celebrate.”
As well as the German’s return to his former club, there was also a lot of focus on the man who replaced him at Dortmund, Thomas Tuchel. The parallels between Klopp and Tuchel were clear, with both having less than glamorous playing careers, before stepping into management at Mainz, then after success there, being snapped up by Dortmund.
Tuchel had been brought in to build on what Klopp had done. It was a desire for evolution rather than revolution and had been working well, with Dortmund second only to Pep Guardiola’s imperious Bayern Munich side in the Bundesliga, and averaging a remarkable three goals per home game.
Tuchel had built a solid all-round team, but the key to his success had been getting the most out of the star front three of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with the latter having scored an incredible 36 goals heading into the game.
The general consensus from the wider football world was that Dortmund were heavy favourites to go through, and not just because they had a stronger team on paper, but that Klopp’s work at Liverpool was still clearly very much in it’s infancy, while Tuchel merely had to tighten a few nuts and bolts and had his team playing consistently high-quality football for most of his first season.
With the first leg in Germany, Liverpool knew they had to make sure they stayed in the tie for the home leg, ideally grabbing an away goal or two to give themselves a chance when they went back to Anfield seven days later.
Klopp sprung something of a surprise with his selection for the first leg, deciding to leave Daniel Sturridge on the bench and start with Divock Origi as the lone striker. The thought process being that Origi’s strength and pace would test the very talented but not too agile defensive pair of Sven Bender and Mats Hummels.
Before kickoff, Signal Iduna Park played host to one of the most remarkable scenes in football. 65,000 fans from both teams singing You’ll Never Walk Alone as one. The stage was set, the fans were ready, the players were ready, the managers were ready.
The decision to start with Origi showed some promise early on as Philippe Coutinho played a ball over the top for the Belgian youngster to chase. It rolled through to Roman Weidenfeller, but the intent was clear and it wouldn’t be the only time it was utilised.
As predicted, Dortmund enjoyed the vast amount of early possession, and forced Simon Mignolet into a couple of routine saves.
Liverpool then went forward down the left. Alberto Moreno played a ball to Milner, who flicked it on, and Origi was in on goal once again. This time he ran across Łukasz Piszczek before steering the ball past Weidenfeller and into the corner, via a small deflection off the full back. Liverpool had taken the lead against the run of play and had a crucial away goal.
Klopp celebrated, running towards the travelling away fans and punching the air, showing that there was nothing in the way of compromised feelings about this one. He wanted to beat his old team.
Dortmund piled on the pressure for the rest of the first half, but resolute defending from Liverpool’s back pairing of Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho kept them at bay.
One sour note before the break was an injury to captain Jordan Henderson. He had damaged his knee in a challenge with Reus, and though he tried to play on, was forced off at half time to be replaced by Joe Allen. The next day the injury was revealed to be to his lateral cruciate ligament and he was ruled out for up to eight weeks, meaning his season was over and he would be struggling to be fit in time for the summer’s European Championships in France.
Origi was played in again right at the end of the half but could only hit Weidenfeller with his effort, but it was a sign that there were potentially more goals in the game for The Reds. Liverpool went in at the break ahead and very pleased with their first-half work. However, the second half could not have started in a worse fashion.
Dortmund won a corner on the right, which was taken short to Mkhitaryan, who whipped a cross into the perfect area for Hummels to rise above Adam Lallana and power a header past Mignolet for the equaliser. It was a sloppy goal to concede and had undone a lot of the good work that the visitors had put in. Klopp admitted after the game that the blame was with him as he had told Lallana to occupy that space, not anticipating that the dangerous Hummels would be there as well.
Dortmund continued to dominate the ball but The Reds defended with a maturity that kept the hosts at bay for the vast majority of the game, and it ended 1-1. A better result than many had assumed Liverpool would get, and it gave them something to play for in the return leg.
After the game Klopp was happy enough with what he had seen, “Dortmund is a pretty good side and everyone could see that, but we had our moments and we could have won the game.
“I’m pretty sure a lot of people thought we would lose 2-0, 3-0 or 4-0. But at some moments we had Dortmund and around our goal we were brilliant.
“We are not that far on our way to being like they are. We cannot at the moment play like they play, but we can defend and score goals so we can win.’
Both teams had to return to domestic duty three days later, and the perception was that Liverpool would have the greater advantage ahead of the second leg as they hosted Stoke City at Anfield, while Dortmund had to travel to fierce rivals Schalke 04 for the Ruhr derby. There was hope among Liverpool fans that Dortmund would exert so much energy in playing their neighbours that they would have less petrol in the tank at Anfield the following Thursday.
Klopp emphasised the importance of his side not losing concentration against Stoke, and a competent performance by a much-changed side saw them dispatch their opponents 4-1, including two more goals for Origi.
The concentration was then set straight back on Dortmund, who controversially fielded a weakened team in their game with Schalke, drawing 2-2 and all but ending their feint Bundesliga title hopes.
The anticipation grew as the week progressed, with most in the media predicting that, in spite of the away goal, Dortmund were still the likelier of the two to go through, such was the threat they posed in attack.
Klopp laid down the gauntlet to the fans in his pre-match press conference, saying that the away goal would not be as important as the impact the fans could have. He’d heard all about famous Anfield European nights under the lights, and experienced what he referred to as his first proper one in the victory over Manchester United in the previous round. He wanted this again, but better.
He got it. The team bus arrived to an army of fans, with flares and flags waving all over the streets. The players took videos of the scenes as the Liverpool faithful set the tone for what was going to be quite an evening.
Inside the stadium, as had occurred the week before, You’ll Never Walk Alone was echoing around all four corners of the ground, but then came to a complete silence as everyone in attendance observed a minute’s silence for the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives during an FA Cup semi-final.
The volume was then turned back up to the max as the game began. There was an electricity in the air, anticipation that it was going to be a special night and that Dortmund would be overawed by the spectacular home crowd.
After eight minutes of the game, Dortmund were 2-0 up.
Two quickfire efforts from Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang had not only cancelled out Liverpool’s away goal, but forced the scenario to one where Liverpool had to win on the night, and that wasn’t looking likely.
It was a disastrous start for Klopp, who again had opted for Origi over Sturridge, but had also decided to play the trio of Lallana, Firmino and Coutinho and left out Allen, which appeared to have backfired as Liverpool’s midfield was left wide open for both goals, with Coutinho and Firmino guilty of giving the ball away to start fast Dortmund counter attacks off.
Klopp knew that his team had to at least stem the flow and they calmed the game down with some possession play, even managing to fashion a couple of good chances for Coutinho and Origi, but both were unable to hit the target. Aubameyang was inches away from grabbing a third and putting the tie to bed, but Dortmund still went in at the break with their 2-0 lead, 3-1 on aggregate.
The manager had his work cut out. He hadn’t wanted to play Dortmund, and this was why. They were a lethal attacking unit that could punish any minor error, and perhaps his Liverpool team wasn’t ready for such a stern test. However, he had to do what he could to convince his men that they weren’t done yet.
In his half-time team talk he decided to evoke the spirit of Liverpool’s most famous ever comeback, the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul where they had recovered from 3-0 down at half-time to draw 3-3, and then won on penalties. He explained how those players believed in themselves and pulled it off against all the odds, and told his players to go out and make their own moments that they could tell their children and their grandchildren about.
It seemed to have the desired effect as within minutes of the restart, some exquisite one-touch passing through the midfield, led by Emre Can, saw the German play Origi in behind. The Belgian kept his cool and slotted home to halve the deficit on the night. Liverpool still needed two more, but it was a start.
However, the excitement was extinguished shortly after as Reus was played through down the left by Hummels and side-footed the ball into the far corner for Dortmund’s third. Even the most ardent of optimists were struggling to find hope for Klopp and his team. They were attacking with more threat, but it was clear that Dortmund were capable of scoring every time they went forward. It was a gut punch for Liverpool, but it wasn’t the end.
Klopp made a double substitution, taking off Firmino and Lallana for Allen and Sturridge, with almost immediate results. Allen kept possession in the middle, before passing the ball out to Moreno. The full back found Coutinho, who played a one-two with Milner, before firing low and into the corner for 3-2.
Klopp called for more noise, and he got it. The fans were back on side and all of a sudden Dortmund were reeling. Origi fired a shot from range just over the bar and it started to feel like when, rather than if, Liverpool would equalise.
Dortmund managed to hold the hosts at arm’s length for a while, but conceded a corner when Weidenfeller was forced to push a Milner cross behind. Can went down with an ankle injury and was forced to come off. After treatment, the German hobbled away towards the touchline in front of The Kop, but was soon hopping with joy as the resulting corner was headed in by Sakho.
The fans roar nearly took the new roof off the refurbished Main Stand while Klopp raced down the touchline and punched the air repeatedly. It was 3-3. Liverpool needed just one more goal with 10 minutes remaining.
Can was replaced by Lucas Leiva as Liverpool went after the winner. Dortmund had to regroup, but the calm assuredness they had shown earlier in the game was gone. They were making mistakes and just trying to hold on.
As the board was put up for four minutes of added time, Clyne was fouled near the halfway line. It was a chance for Liverpool to flood the box in a final attempt at improbable victory. An earlier freekick in a similar area found Lovren at the far post, but his audacious left-footed volley sailed into Row Q of the Kop.
However, this time there was an alternative option. Sturridge peeled away and offered Milner an open pass, which he took advantage of. Sturridge struggled to control the ball, but by the time he had, Milner had raced into the penalty area. Sturridge found him with a neat ball and Milner took it out wide, before placing a pinpoint cross to the far post. Lovren was waiting and connected perfectly with his head to send the ball crashing into the net.
They had done it. Needing three goals in the final 33 minutes, Liverpool had scored them. The only figure in the whole ground with a calm exterior was Klopp, who knew the job wasn’t done just yet. His team had three more minutes to see out.
The nerves weren’t helped when Lucas conceded a freekick on the edge of the Liverpool penalty area with seconds on the clock. İlkay Gündoğan stepped up to take it. Hearts were in mouths briefly as he swept the ball over the wall, but a collective sigh of relief came as it sailed just wide of the post, followed by a joyous roar as the referee subsequently blew for full time.
Klopp had told his players to make their own moments, and they did just that. Progression from a tie that seemed unlikely when the draw was made, and practically impossible when Dortmund led 4-2 on aggregate with half an hour remaining, but The Reds had done it. They had conquered the German side and were into the final four of the Europa League.
At the final whistle Klopp shook hands with the understandably despondent Tuchel, before consoling some of his former players, going to Reus and Hummels and hugging the pair. He then went to celebrate with his players, who were stood in front of The Kop in a line and raising their arms as one. Finally, he went over to the Dortmund fans to give them one final wave goodbye, with a mixed response from the travelling party.
Two days later at his pre-Bournemouth press conference, Klopp was asked about the players’ raising their arms to the crowd.
He replied, “I wasn’t involved. They did it by themselves. They wanted to say a big thank you to the crowd.
“It was all about the lads and the crowd. What we achieved was only possible because of that special relationship.
“The atmosphere was like I’d heard it could be possible. Before the game it was unbelievable when we drove through the streets. It was a great experience for all the lads.
“On the way to the game it’s always silent on the coach but in this moment it was different. They all got out their cellphones to take videos. It was really cool.
“I’ve seen a lot of Dortmund games this season and I’ve not seen a game where they were under pressure like this. It was a special story. The fourth goal was brilliant but you need a bit of luck. You can’t expect things like this but you have to believe they are possible.
“I don’t have a bad word to say about Dejan Lovren. I’m not sure if everyone loved him before I came here but for his relationship with the crowd that will be really important.
“A game like that has influence on everything. Your mood, your attitude and your belief, and on the people around us. It was perfect.”
It had been another epic European night at Anfield to join the annals of the club’s rich history, and it was yet more evidence of the effect that Klopp was having on this team, and on the fans.
When his early Liverpool side were 2-1 down against Crystal Palace with 10 minutes left, people flooded to the exits. When needing three goals in 33 minutes against Dortmund, not one person intended leaving their seat. Instead they stayed to cheer their team to the unlikeliest of wins.
Doubters were starting to believe.
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