For a long time now journalists have spent the majority of their time on Liverpool’s big European nights writing about the past, about the iconic moments in history which make the club so seeped in nostalgia.
But this night in Dortmund was all about a glimpse of the future.
The Europa League isn’t the Champions League. Liverpool 2016 is not Liverpool 2005 and certainly not Liverpool 1984; but even so this mature, organised and disciplined performance in Dortmund, sprinkled with attacking flair and founded on a belief in the manager’s tactics, gave hope that things are at least going in the right direction.
Having beaten Manchester United in the previous round this was certainly Jurgen Klopp’s biggest test since arriving at Anfield; a quarter-final tie against his former club, the competition favourites, a side even he described as ‘full, full, full of confidence”.
To put the game in perspective, Dortmund went into the fixture having already scored 18 times in the Europa League this season, as well as hitting the woodwork on 10 further occasions. They are the current form team in Germany and in Pierre-Emerick Aubameygang (33 goals), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (15) and Marco Reus (15) have natural finishers across the front line. And yet Liverpool contained them.
It will be a long time before Jurgen Klopp has the team he really wants on the pitch - he hasn’t even had the luxury of a pre-season so far in his time at Anfield - but his return to the atmospheric Westfallon Stadium where he made his name was a huge step forward for the players he inherited from Brendan Rodgers as they held the favourites to a 1-1 draw.
Under Klopp, players such as Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren have been transformed – both were hugely influential in Dortmund – and others such as Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana and Alberto Moreno have matured. And then there’s Divoc Origi who was surprisingly chosen ahead of Daniel Sturridge here and scored his side’s crucial away goal,and has responded so well to the belief of his manager.
Not many people gave Liverpool a chance in this tie but looking back on the game there was even a sense that they completed the job without really being pushed, that maybe the way they played was entirely and expertly planned.
Certainly it’s not normal for Liverpool to be classed as underdogs, no matter how low they slip in the Premier League, and despite requiring a defensive display they gained a result which puts them in an excellent position for the second leg at Anfield next week.
There was never a sense, not even for a second, that Liverpool’s players doubted they belonged on this stage and in fact, despite the possession stats, they had the better chances and could have come away with more. The fact that Klopp brought on Sturridge and Firmino late on, rather than filling his team with defenders, suggests the manager had his eye on victory, too. “We could have won the game,” he insisted afterwards.
Within seconds of Hummel’s equaliser – yet again from a corner, clearly still Liverpool’s Achilles heel – the visitors had fashioned three excellent chances, two for Coutinho and one for Clyne, and were only denied by a series of excellent saves from Roman Weidenfeller.
In the end a draw was a fair result and sets up a fascinating second leg at Anfield, a match which has the potential to sit alongside some of those great European nights of the past. But perhaps it’s time to think about the future instead. This is just the start for a new Liverpool side under an excellent manager – and Klopp knows it is just the first step.
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