Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool registered a famous comeback victory to overcome Borussia Dortmund twice from being three goals down at Anfield to qualify for the Europa League semi-finals against Villarreal
Everyone knew this was going to be a thriller. It wasn’t just two great football clubs going at it with all their might for a spot in the semi-finals of the Europa League, it was more. It was a clash between the alter ego of man, a man had the biggest hand in almost all of Borussia Dortmund’s recent success as opposed to a team which he has only recently learned of and developed. It is even safe to say that he built that club. Big players followed by increased investment and trophies are just some points of evidence to attest the fact. But Jurgen Klopp is now the manager of Liverpool and though sentiments and emotions would’ve have been at its peak, he still had a job to do.
Many fans of the club worldwide have spoken and said that it was the best game they had ever seen as a fan of the club. Of course for most Istanbul comes first in terms of best, but, no Stevie G, no Rafa, not a league final, hell no one even from that squad from Istanbul, still, the current players, fans, manager and other close associates were enough to overcome a deficit as large as three goals, not once but twice. From being three goals down and on the verge of getting knocked out of an important competition twice in one game and to come back and win is no common occurrence. If you don’t believe me check this.
Even before the game there was great promise that it was to be a cracker. The stadium became a land of enthralment and ecstasy when the home club finally found their way back within 26 minutes from time. It was a staggering reminder to many who had forgotten the clubs status of “Comeback Kings”.
But let’s go back a little bit. Let’s begin with what preceded one of the best comebacks not just enjoyed by the loyalists but all through the beautiful world of football witnessed.
THE FIRST LEG
Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool fans unite for a memorable rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ at the Westfalenstadion.
The two clubs last met in 1966 and it is believed that the German side adopted the anthem from their English counterparts from that day 50 years ago. It was an emotional night in Germany as Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp returned to Dortmund for the first time since leaving at the end of last season. He managed the German club for seven years during which he won two Bundesliga titles and took the team to the finals of the Champions league in the 2012-2013 season.
So this was how it begun, Dortmund and Liverpool fans singing YNWA in a unison that gripped everyone in and around the stadium and raised the atmosphere to another level. The Dortmund fans, who are known for their undying love and support and who are in fact one of the loudest and most dramatic group of fans, held nothing back from cheering their team forward.
Starting line-ups –
- Borussia Dortmund XI: Weidenfeller, Piszczek, Bender (Sokratis), Hummels, Schmelzer, Castro, Weigl, Durm (Sahin), Mkhitaryan, Reus, Aubameyang (Pulisic).
- Liverpool XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno, Henderson (Allen), Can, Milner, Lallana (Firmino), Coutinho, Origi (Sturridge).
Divock Origi fired Liverpool into a first-half lead. Origi scored his first Europa League goal for Liverpool which was also his first since October 2014 for Lille against Wolfsburg.
The Belgian struck just nine minutes before the break as the Reds grabbed the all-important away goal on Klopp’s return to his former club.
The 20-year-old ensured Liverpool’s Europa League dream remains very much alive on an emotional night in Germany.
Dejan Lovren had squandered an opportunity to put Liverpool ahead when he headed straight at Dortmund’s veteran who stood strong all night, while impeccable defending from Mamadou Sakho denied Henrikh Mkhitaryan a tap-in at the other end.
Sakho who has been impressive so far in the season defended like a battalion of soldiers. His positioning, passing and tackling were all impressive as he and his colleague Lovren held the men in yellow and black from adding to their tally. Sakho picked up the man-of-the-match award for his resilient performance that night.
Henderson was replaced at half-time by Joe Allen after he had landed awkwardly when jumping for a header late in the first half. The Liverpool captain left Signal Iduna Park in crutches. Amid concerns, he has damaged knee ligaments and could be sidelined for the remaining five weeks of the domestic season. This means that the midfielder would have little opportunity to prove his match fitness to the England manager Roy Hodgson before the Euros.
“It is not a small thing,” Reds boss Klopp said.
England boss Roy Hodgson is due to announce his Euro 2016 squad on 12 May.
There was still time for Alberto Moreno to send Origi clear before half-time but the Belgian was this time denied as his chip was easily stopped by Weidenfeller and, that miss proved costly as Dortmund were level on 48 minutes when the unmarked Mats Hummels headed in after a short corner was played to Mkhitaryan on the right. The defender was not picked up after a short corner, and rose above Adam Lallana to head home Dortmund’s fifth Europa League goal from a corner, the most by any side in the competition this season.
Other than the goals, there weren’t any significant hard hit attempts on goal which gradually got the game to slow down in the final stages and, neither team was able to find a winner, leaving the tie in the balance ahead of the second leg at Anfield.
Dortmund have been eliminated on five of the six occasions they’ve drawn the first leg of a European tie at home.
The result leaves the tie evenly poised heading into the return fixture on April 14, but the omens are good for Liverpool, who have progressed from 11 of their last 12 European ties when they have drawn the first leg away from home.
Substitutions, bookings & goals:
BORUSSIA DORTMUND (4-2-3-1): Weidenfeller; Pisczzek, Bender (Sokratis 76), Hummels, Schmelzer; Weigl, Castro; Durm (Sahin 46), Mkhitaryan, Reus; Aubameyang (Pulisic 77). Subs: Burki, Leitner, Kagawa, Ginter.
BOOKINGS: Reus, Weidenfeller, Sokratis.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno; Henderson (Allen 46), Can; Milner, Coutinho, Lallana (Firmino 77); Origi (Sturridge 84). Subs: Ward, Toure, Ibe, Smith.
BOOKINGS: Can, Lallana.
GOAL: Origi 36.
REFEREE: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain).
THE SECOND LEG
It was always going to be tough to top the atmosphere from the first leg but, the name of the stadium is Anfield. Home to a group of some of the most loyal and expressive fans in England. And if you believed that capacity is all that matters when it comes to love, support and of course volume of sound, just take a look at the video and judge for yourself the atmosphere within the stadium. Of course though, once again it was fans from both teams who equally participated in singing their pre-match anthem together.
The Reds were also a few hours away from marking the 27th anniversary of the unfortunate Hillsborough accident that had occurred on 15th April, 1989. The game begun with a minute of silence to pay respect to those who lost their lives in the accident. But, little only could anybody have known that soon after ‘some’ more silence was to follow.
Starting line-ups –
- Borussia Dortmund XI: Weidenfeller, Piszczek, Sokratis, Hummels, Schmelzer, Kagawa (Ginter), Weigl, Castro (Gundogan), Mkhitaryan, Reus (Ramos), Aubameyang.
- Liverpool XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno, Can (Lucas), Milner, Lallana (Allen), Firmino (Sturridge), Coutinho, Origi.
Not even four minutes had passed when Shinji Kagawa drove through the field and released a ball for Gonzalo Castro whose ball over the top brought a sharp save from Mignolet after a decent strike from Aubameyang which caused a deflection only for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to score on the follow-up.
The second goal shaded the first for clinical excellence. Dortmund star Marco Reus tore through the midfield and measured out a through ball behind Sakho to Aubameyang who drove into the net with a beautiful finish over and above a helpless Mignolet.
Aubameyang’s form and delivery faced no hiccup as he added another to the scorecard almost destroying Liverpool’s hopes within the first ten minutes. In turn, he took his tally to 37 goals in 44 games for the season.
The second goal also meant that the tie wouldn’t feature extra-time (30 minutes) as Dortmund had already netted more away goals than Liverpool.
(“I reminded the players about Liverpool being 3-0 down in the Champions League final,” said Liverpool’s boss Jurgen Klopp. “It was brilliant, outstanding, emotional,” he added).
If Liverpool were to have had any hope in the remainder of that game they had to muster a quick response similar to Dortmund’s in the first half.
And so they did, Emre Can played a brilliant through ball to Origi after a couple of one-twos only three minutes after the restart which the Belgian poked through Roman Weidenfeller’s legs in to the net.
The man of the moment had stepped up and delivered again, justifying his selection ahead of Daniel Sturridge in the starting eleven.
Divock Origi had netted four goals in his past three Liverpool games after failing to score in his previous nine.
But once again, Liverpool’s hopes took another blow as Hummels played an exquisite David Silva-esque through ball to Reus who made it 3-1 for the night which many saw as Sakho’s failure to hold the defensive line playing him onside. And once once, Liverpool needed 3 unanswered goals against the leagues favourites to win the tie.
(“We needed three goals and I said that, even if it is not really likely, it is possible and we should try to do it,” Klopp added).
There wasn’t any doubt that Anfield was shaken up, even more after after conceding a third which meant that it was indeed done and dusted. But then again, this is Anfield and over the years the people who have visited this beautiful stadium could testify that they’ve witnessed some of the craziest turn arounds the football world has witnessed.
And so just as the anxiety and pressure was building, Liverpool’s top scorer and main man for the season Coutinho, exchanged passes with James Milner and crashed in a right foot shot for 3-2 on 66 minutes. Though it was a wonderful strike and goal, it couldn’t have meant so much because even at that juncture, the Reds were two goals short of victory with only 24 minutes left to play.
(“That is the moment in football and life when you have to show character and that’s what the lads did, it was pretty cool to watch,” Klopp added).
When you’re down by two goals and facing a certain knock out, it is only fair that you give in as much as you can, even if not for glory or victory, but for the sake of earning respect and fulfilling your duty as a sportsman (two important traits for any professional sportsperson associated with any game in the world).
Following Coutinho’s goal, Liverpool did step things up a notch. Mignolet who was a busier man than the man in his position across the field from him, had quite literally nothing to do in the second half. It was all Liverpool. They showed great determination and put in great effort to prove that that team wasn’t going down without a fight and, so it happened, Sakho stooped to head in Milner’s corner on 78 minutes for 3-3. Sakho, 26, got Liverpool level with 13 minutes to play ensuring that the rest of the tie wasn’t going to be easy for the men in yellow and black.
Klopp who has rarely ever been seen to hold his emotions down especially when it comes to football didn’t surprise anyone as he hopped along the sideline and cheered his teams spirit and commitment to have equalised the score.
Four minutes had been signalled on the board when Schmelzer brought Clyne down on the edge of the sideline near the half-way mark conceding a free-kick which Milner took no delay in playing short to an alert Daniel Sturridge who cheekily played it back towards the charging Milner whose first touch beat the defender enabling him to cross to the far post where at least three Liverpool players were waiting, one of them being Dejan Lovren who rose tallest to head home for one of the most memorable nights of the Millennium at Anfield.
It was Lovren’s first goal for Liverpool in the season and only a single piece of wit is required to say that it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Liverpool had only 4 shots on target from which they got four goals.
Liverpool have never lost at home to German opposition in the European competition (W11 D3).
“I know this is a place for big football moments,” said Klopp. “I will not forget it because it was special. Now we have to carry on and try to do it more often.”
Substitutions, bookings & goals:
Liverpool (4-2-3-1) : Mignolet, Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno, Can (Lucas 80), Milner, Lallana (Allen 62), Firmino (Sturridge 62), Coutinho, Origi. Subs: Ward, Skrtel, Smith, Ojo.
GOALS: Origi (48), Coutinho (66), Sakho (78), Lovren (90).
Borussia Dortmund (4-2-3-1) : Weidenfeller, Piszczek, Hummels, Sokratis, Schmelzer, Weigl (Gundogan 82), Castro, Mkhitaryan, Kagawa (Ginter 77), Reus (Ramos 82), Aubameyang. Subs: Burki, Sahin, Bender, Pulisic.
BOOKINGS: Hummels, Piszczek.
GOALS: Mkhitaryan (5), Aubameyang (9), Reus (56).
REFERRE: Cuneyt Cakir
THE UNSUNG HERO
Having already lost a final (Capital One Cup) earlier this year against his former club Manchester City, James Milner was all the more determined to not let another opportunity for silverware in his first season for Liverpool slip away.
He is a man who has been carrying a ‘boring’ player tag for years and even though there a few who speak ill of him, no one can deny his effort and involvement in games. And because of that he can fill in to any position as and when a situation arises. The man can pass, cross, shoot, dribble, defend and most of all last as long as any other player on the pitch.
Whenever Liverpool have needed something extra in this season, he has risen and delivered. Against Dortmund, Milner was fierce and aggressive and fought till the very end. His presence on the pitch was vital and the three assists that came off his foot were like the backbone for Liverpool’s staggering comeback victory.
After the game against Dortmund, James Milner had been involved in more Liverpool goals than any other player in 2015-16 (19 – seven goals, 12 assists).
THE SUNG HERO
Jurgen Klopp was warmly received by both sets of fans at both the venues. This was to be a very emotional night for him, after leaving his former club at the end of last season and to be facing them in the very next season in an important phase of an important competition with whom his allegiance now lies, Liverpool Football Club.
Though things didn’t seem to have gone his way entirely through the course of 180 minutes, in the end it was him and his team that emerged victorious. If actions speak louder than words, here is a fine example. Managerial expertise at its finest.
Some post-game comments from the unsung hero and the goal scorers:
“The coach said we had to create a moment to tell our grandchildren or children about, to make a special night for the fans. We believed in it.”
“When we scored the first goal, we all felt it would be a special moment.”
“The manager was very calm, surprisingly calm,” he said. “That’s the class of a big manager. You could see no panic, no stress, he believed in us and in the end it helped.”
“We had nothing to lose. We just had to go. We had to play and show our qualities and believe in ourselves and at the end we could win.”
“The most important thing today was that the team played with heart and the fans never never left us,” he said. “This was a win for the Liverpool country!”
“Of course the coach always encouraged us — at half-time as well. He said that we had nothing to lose, that it’s 2-0 for them and that we still had to believe, to return to the pitch and play for our friends, our families and for this extraordinary public. And that we would assess things at the end.”
“The coach’s talk managed to rally the troops and we played with heart and with this extraordinary support. In football, moments like that will remain magical and magnificent.”
(Mamadou Sakho dedicated the victory to the fans – and the nation of Liverpool!)
“It’s an amazing feeling, one of the best games in the last two or three years, we never stopped believing in ourselves.”
“We had nothing to lose, it was a great effort from everybody.”
“We didn’t expect that we would start like we did, but we showed a lot of character.”
“The manager was brilliant. He was calm. He said, ‘We are not playing too badly. It is a long way back, we have lost the first half but you have nothing to lose, go out and do it.”
“It would have been easy for him to come in effing and blinding but he didn’t.”
“He reminded us of a situation where the club has come through a similar situation before.”
“He obviously mentioned a certain night in Istanbul and said there have been other great nights in this club’s history from a similar position so go out and see what happens.”
“I think it was the perfect atmosphere created at half-time to be honest.”
“When the crowd are like that there are not too many better places in the world to be playing and to be part of a night like that is fantastic.”