Borussia Dortmund 1 – Liverpool 1 Match Report & Analysis

Confounding Expectations

In the build-up to the game it seemed as if Liverpool were only going to the Westfalenstadion to make up the numbers. Such was the sense of Dortmund’s superiority over the Reds that it’s a miracle the lads were even able to tie up their shoelaces before running on the pitch.

In fairness, Dortmund’s run so far this calendar year has been impressive. I say impressive, I mean terrifying. Seventeen games before last night had resulted in fifteen wins and two draws. Over two legs against Tottenham, a team likely to finish at least second in the Premier League, they scored five and conceded just one. They have been, for want of a better word, imperious.

Even Klopp has spent the weeks since the draw was made talking about his old club as one of ‘the top five teams in the world’ and suggesting they were the runaway favourites for the competition, let alone the tie.

But was there not a little bit of ‘toffee’ involved in Klopp’s words? Such was the expectation surrounding Dortmund’s dominance that even their fans were respectful of Liverpool before kick-off but thoroughly convinced that their side would win by several goals. Did this over-confidence trickle down from the stands onto the pitch?

There’s perhaps a legitimate question to be asked about whether the performance from the German side was tinged with a degree of arrogance, but even if that’s the case it shouldn’t be used to downplay just how well Liverpool performed last night.

360b / shutterstock.com

360b / shutterstock.com

To emerge from Dortmund not only having not lost but having scored what could turn out to be a vital away goal is incredibly impressive from a team who have been inconsistent for most of the season. Given that the entire Liverpool team had managed to score 72 goals in all competitions this season and Reus, Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan alone had scored 75 for Dortmund before the game, stopping those three from finding the net was impressive in itself.

Defensive Improvements

Whisper it, but Liverpool’s defence has improved almost beyond recognition since Jurgen Klopp took over from Brendan Rodgers. Even with Moreno’s brainlessness, Sakho’s one good game, one bad game policy and Dejan Lovren’s ability to have a breakdown when we’re least expecting it, they have quietly gone about solidifying things at the back.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve still conceded 27 goals since the turn of the year so we’re not exactly Mourinho’s Chelsea team, but we’ve got ourselves significantly more organised and of those 27 goals ten were conceded in three games against Southampton, Norwich and Arsenal. You wouldn’t put your life on Liverpool keeping a clean sheet but there does appear to be a new found sense of organisation at the back nowadays.

Sakho

Sakho

That organisation was seen more clearly yesterday than at any other time since arguably the halcyon days of Rafa Benitez’s defensive mindset was in charge at Anfield. The tackles from Lovren and Sakho to stop what looked to be almost certain Dortmund goals were both world-class. You get the sense that if Matip is half the centre-back he appears to be and we’re able to add a top-drawer goalkeeper in the summer then that defensive solidity will become even more apparent.

All of the talk before the game was about how patient Dortmund are, how they pass and probe and wait for a decent chance to present itself. Whilst Klopp had installed the Bundesliga side with the ability to press relentlessly and hit teams on the counter-attack, Tuchel has taken that further and added a possession based game that helps his team to create better chances, often waiting until they’re inside the area before getting their shots off.

Last night Liverpool stopped that tactic dead in its tracks. The forward players put pressure on Dortmund’s defence and goalkeeper to mean that they had to go long more often than not, meaning that the midfield could probe as much as they do in league matches. It also limited the ability of the German teams’ front three to deliver the quality they’ve managed in recent times.

It was a tactical masterclass from the German against his former team, with his new players working hard to limit the threats against them. Klopp hasn’t got everything right tactically since his arrival on Merseyside, with the Reds’ recent collapse against Southampton almost exclusively down to the bespectacled boss’ poor substitutions. But yesterday got everything absolutely spot on and should be commended for producing one of the best European away supporters we’ve seen from a Liverpool team since 2009.

Origi Was The Right Choice

When the team was released night there were more than a couple of Liverpool fans whose heads fell off. ‘How can he drop Sturridge?!’, was the shout. ‘Origi’s a good runner but he can’t score’, said others. Indeed the immediate narrative from the press was that Klopp had indeed ‘dropped’ Sturridge, rather than felt Origi was the more appropriate choice for the game in front of us.

Depsite Jurgen Klopp being considered to be the best possible option for Liverpool, with his magnetism and the ‘cult’ of his management seeming to chime perfectly with the Anfield crowd’s need to put their manager on a pedestal, some still think it appropriate to question his every decision. It’s perhaps easy to forget that he’s not even working with his own team at the moment.

Let’s forget about Origi for a second and talk about James Milner. Let’s be honest, he’s probably had more poor games than decent games in a Red shirt since his much heralded arrival from Manchester City in the summer. Some fans were furious when he was once again named in the starting XI last night, as though there was a chance the club’s Vice-Captain was going to be dropped for a game of this magnitude.

Origi

Origi

Yet this was a game built for a player like Milner. He might not be the most spectacular player and he rarely changes games on his own, but he’s the definition of a grafter and last night was a game that needed graft above all else. It comes through in his numbers, too, with the England man making seven tackles and four interceptions – more than any other Liverpool player.

Back to Origi, then, and were the pre-match worries of some supporters justified? The Belgian is the forward section equivalent of Milner at the moment. He works incredibly hard but doesn’t necessarily produce killer moments. Again, though, working hard was arguably the most important factor for the team last night, and Origi brings hard work in buckets.

He’s also young enough to improve immeasurably in the coming months and years. For all that the British press might be acting as if Manchester United’s Anthony Martial is the best young player ever to grace the Premier League, Divock Origi actually has better numbers than the Frenchman. His numbers aren’t as good as Daniel Sturridge’s, obviously, but they’re heading in the right direction for a 20-year-old with limited game time.

Sturridge is the better player, of that there can be no doubt. He is a world-class striker who can put the ball in the back of the net with relative ease when he’s fit and firing. But for all that he’s clinical in the final third he doesn’t offer the work-rate that Origi does. Perhaps that’s because he’s not yet trusting his body after such a long time out, or perhaps it’s because he just never has. Whatever the reason, Origi was the right choice for the match that was in front of us and the sooner everyone starts trusting Klopp’s decisions the better.

All Still To Play For

The hope of most Liverpool fans before kick-off was that the Reds would still be in the tie when Dortmund head to Anfield next Thursday. A 1-1 draw means we’re not only still in the tie but it’s entirely possible that we might just be considered favourites.

The biggest thing for me, though, is that last night’s performance shows that Dortmund are fallible. We went to the Westfalenstadion as underdogs going up against the biggest of Goliaths. We return to Merseyside having humbled the mighty and shown them they need to worry about us just as much as we need to worry about them.

The Kop in full flow

The Kop in full flow

Klopp’s got some more key decisions to make before the second leg of this tie gets underway. Whatever choices he makes, though, we need to get right behind him and right behind the match’s starting XI, because whichever you look at it we’ve got everything to play for.

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