Jurgen Klopp was the key to Liverpool getting a result at Borussia Dortmund, but the Kop will need to be on form for the return leg, writes Dave Tindall.
Playing the second-placed sides in both England and Germany in the space of six days was always going to be a major test of how far Liverpool had progressed under Jurgen Klopp.
It’s fair to say we passed it. Maybe not quite with flying colours, but a pair of 1-1 draws against Tottenham and Borussia Dortmund made it a seriously good week. Eight out of 10 maybe?
Let’s begin with Liverpool v Spurs.
I started last Saturday by taking my son to see our local team Bradford host Scunthorpe for his 10th birthday (the lucky boy, I hear you thinking). Naturally, I’ve brainwashed him into being a Liverpool fan and he’s seen them home and away, but frequently driving past the beautifully-named Coral Windows Stadium meant there was an itch to be scratched so we did.
It kicked off a soccer-soaked Saturday which then took in the games at Anfield and the Nou Camp via TV.
The order of the matches – Bradford v Scunthorpe, Liverpool v Spurs and Barcelona v Real Madrid – brought to mind that graphic of man learning to walk upright as the football evolved towards the peak of El Classico.
Sturridge and Coutinho showed class
But, to be honest, I enjoyed all three in their different ways, and the best entertainment came on Merseyside during a blood-and-thunder clash in which Liverpool more than held their own.
A sharper Daniel Sturridge would surely have netted his first opportunity when clean through and probably the second-half header too.
However, his pass to set up Philippe Coutinho’s lovely opener was pure class. In the 100mph rush of the Premier League, not many can do that, but like all those with that extra touch of clash, Sturridge can slow things down in his brain, see the picture quicker than others and produce quality when everything is whizzing past in a blur.
As for Coutinho, his superb one-two and stroked finish was every bit as classy and took him into double figures for the first time in his Liverpool career. We all love the skill, but you can’t beat end product and the ‘Little Magician’ is providing it on a more regular basis which makes him an asset to be treasured.
To be fair, Harry Kane’s equaliser – drilled into the inner side-netting, Robbie Fowler-style, was a bit special too and, although a 1-1 home draw with anyone is never fully satisfying, it was fair to say that Liverpool came out of the game with credit having had the better chances.
That result/performance was decent but still left the week in the balance. A heavy loss in Dortmund would make it a bad one; a good result and it would form part of a strong one.
Klopp the key to Dortmund draw
At the Westfalenstadion – Klopp’s former stomping ground – it was very much the latter.
In the wrong hands (okay, let’s be specific and say Brendan Rodgers), a game away to a Dortmund side flying high in the Bundesliga could have gone terribly wrong.
But having Klopp in charge changed the dynamic completely. His seven years there gave him a unique insight into how to go about stopping the men in yellow and pumped Liverpool with confidence.
Klopp is revered in Dortmund and rightly so after leading them to two Bundesliga titles, German Cup glory and the 2013 Champions League final. He has an aura that few managers possess and that gave Liverpool an edge they would never have had otherwise.
His sheer force of personality was a big factor in the match – there was even a Kloppcam for goodness sake – and it must have given Dortmund the feeling they were playing against more than just the 11 men in red shirts.
As if to confirm his almost mythical status, perhaps it was inevitable that Klopp’s huge call to leave out Sturridge and play Divock Origi should pay dividends inside 36 minutes, the young Belgian coolly slotting home to give Liverpool the crucial away goal.
Klopp, as promised, celebrated with a beat of the chest, and although we conceded an equaliser early in the second-half via our old foe, the set-piece, Dortmund were kept in check.
Well played Lovren (again), well played Sakho (you owed us one after the eccentric display against Spurs) and well done the officials for not punishing Moreno for a ludicrous kung-fu kick. He’s got bags of talent, but what goes through that bloke’s head sometimes?
Is Klopp playing with fire?
A big pat on the back to Origi, of course, for not only scoring but keeping the Dortmund defence stretched, but what must Sturridge have thought?
LFC’s deadliest marksman never seems far away from a bit of a sulk these days (is it his upside-down mouth?), but getting just eight minutes at the end of one of the biggest games of the season will have made his mood particularly sour.
Is Klopp playing with fire? He might now have two blazes to put out having already demoted Christian Benteke to bit-part player -was the Origi promotion a specific selection for a specific match or does his suitability to Klopp’s style suggest longer-term ramifications?
Sturridge could still easily emerge as this tie’s most significant figure, but, without doubt, he has some convincing to do. As of now, Klopp isn’t thrilled at what he sees and it’s up to the England striker to adapt and win his new German boss over.
Time for the Kop
And so to that second leg at Anfield just a week after the first.
If Klopp was our not-so-secret weapon in Germany, it’s now the turn of the Liverpool fans to show their importance in the return.
This is perfectly set up for one of those classic Anfield European nights which are becoming a rather unexpected treat in this increasingly fascinating season.
The way 2015-16 was panning out under Rodgers, it looked as if all we’d get was a series of underwhelming Europa League games against modest opposition before a half-decent team would send us packing.
But, instead, there’s been the highly-charged thrill of the 2-0 last 16 win over Manchester United and we now face another electric atmosphere when Dortmund come to town.
By name, they were Europa League matches but, in reality, they feel like Champions League ties and, obviously, that’s where all Liverpool fans want to be.
Of course, it’s still a big task to progress past Dortmund and it’s worth noting that the Germans are still favourites with the bookies to lift the trophy despite that 1-1 draw on their own patch.
So, what team should Klopp send out to give LFC the best chance of another European glory night?
Sturridge or Origi? Or both?
Perhaps Klopp had the perfect template in that Man Utd game.
The team that night at a rocking Anfield read: Mignolet, Clyne, Moreno, Lovren, Sakho, Henderson, Can, Lallana, Coutinho, Firmino, Sturridge.
Does it need James Milner to give it an added layer of protection?
You could argue it both ways, but I have full faith in Klopp to mastermind another glorious night.
I hadn’t bothered to find out where the final was as it seemed irrelevant when we here huffing and puffing against the likes of Sion and Rubin.
Now it’s in my diary. The St. Jakob-Park in Basel, Switzerland on May 18.