Thursday, 3 May 2018

In praise of...Klopp's Borussia Dortmund

A full piece appears at Row Z online here

Image result for borussia dortmund

With Jurgen Klopp on the verge of taking Liverpool to the Champions League final for the first time under his stewardship, after the 5-2 victory on Tuesday night at Anfield versus Roma, it is only fitting that we look back at the last attacking juggernaut he took to the promised land.  This piece will look back fondly at the 2012/13 Champions League season when the competition became distinctly German.

In honour of the 150th Anniversary of the Football Association, UEFA gave the honour of hosting the showpiece final at Wembley only two years after Barcelona had defeated Manchester United in 2011.  The irony was not lost on anyone that the anniversary and the birth of football in England was rewarded with an event featuring two German powerhouses at the home of football.

Whilst, Bayern Munich were entering this game with the hope of completing a treble in Jupp Heynckes last game in charge before stepping aside for the incoming Pep Guardiola, the hope of many a neutral was that Borussia Dortmund would finally garner the trophy their style of play deserved.  A mixture of bombast and beauty, Dortmund were the coming together of Klopp's beliefs - high pressing, stylish counter-attacking, breathless football.

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Having won the Bundesliga title in 2012, the need to have a deep Champions League run was required to cement the legacy of Klopp's work and deny the Munich machine the last laugh.  The season itself was oddly though one of transition and movement; many key players were making important decisions about their future.  Mario Gotze would leave for Bayern Munich at the end of the season and the heads of other luminaries, Robert Lewandowski and Matt Hummels were believed to be turning.

This should not discount what Klopp achieved though, creating a roster that was the equal of Bayern Munich's all-star team.  From the aforementioned trio you can add Ilkay Gundogan, Marco Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski as well as the steady Roman Weidendfeller being the last line of defence.

How best to explain Dortmund and their particular enduring appeal?  Think of it like a tennis aficionado; there are people who are either fans of Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.  Whilst Federer is the archetypal doyen of balletic grace and finesse on the court, you would rely on Federer to save a match point and get the job done - you do not win twenty grand slams by being na├»ve; in contrast Nadal is the bombastic, the power, the explosion who came out of nowhere to attempt to usurp the natural order.

Munich is Federer, the machine who has grown more charming in an extended career but the envy of all before him due to the professional structure of their game; Dortmund is Nadal, the little guy who is far stronger than it appears and garners a universal acclaim of adoration and respect.

Dortmund's run in the Champions League was a welcome relief to the poor defence of their Bundesliga title, which resulted them in meekly surrendering their crown to Bayern by 25 points, only claiming second place ahead of Bayer Leverkusen by one point.

Perhaps an early decision was made by Klopp and his staff to go all in on the Champions League, and they were helped by having a good draw in the group stage; being drawn with Real Madrid - a side that always saves itself for the knockout phase; Ajax - a side living on past glories and no match for many a European superpower; and Manchester City - who were still finding their feet in European competition.

Manchester City were always an attractive side in the English Premier League, yet they could not translate that form to the European format - a problem they still have. Real Madrid scored a late equaliser in the return group game to save a point.  Dortmund were top easily, but could have won all six games.

In the first round of the knockout phase, they were drawn against Shaktar Donetsk, following a 2-2 draw in the Ukraine an easy 3-0 second leg triumph made light work of the Ukrainians prompting a quarter-final versus Malaga.

On paper, an easy tie and yet the Spanish islanders were 2-1 going into injury time only for Dortmund to score two late goals to steal victory from the jaws of defeat; goals from Marco Reus and Felipe Santana kept the unlikely dream alive for BVB.

The semi-final drew them with Real Madrid and the third and fourth games against each other; in the first leg in Dortmund all of Europe bore witness to the epitome of Klopp's attacking philosophy and one of the greatest performances in Europe's elite competiton.

In a season where he scored 10 goals in the competition, Robert Lewandowski scored four goals against a vaunted Real Madrid side led by Sergio Ramos.  The game was finely poised at 1-1 at half time with goals by the Polish striker and Cristiano Ronaldo, however the Pole scored a further three goals in the space of 16 second half minutes giving a 4-1 advantage going back to the Bernabeu.

The second leg was evidence of another part of Klopp's philosophy, his sides can defend when they need to, they are prepared to do the dirty work if need be something Barcelona and Real Madrid can be criticised for. This shows the loyalty players have towards Klopp and the belief he can instil in his troops to do what needs to be done.

Real Madrid won the second leg 2-0 but only scored the two goals after 83 minutes showing how resolute the defence was built around the superior leadership of Hummels and solidity of Weidenfeller.

And so to the final at Wembley Stadium, the first all-German final of the European Cup.  In a tense but highly entertaining and enjoyable spectacle, BVB started out the far more fluid side and yet could not convert their chances into goals with Manuel Neuer making some sharp saves.

Come the second half, Bayern grew more into the game and this growth led to a Mario Mandzukic goal on the hour, which was cancelled out shortly after when Gundogan converted a penalty following a silly foul by Javi Martinez on Reus.  As

As the game got more and more stretched with both sides searching for a winner to avoid the energy sapping extra half hour.  Bayern Munich were starting to pick off holes in the defence leading to a Thomas Muller chance being cleared off the line by Neven Subotic which also prevented a tap-in for Arjen Robben; and yet the big bad wolf blew and blew and ultimately got the winner in the 89th minute as Robben ghosted through the box evading tackles and a weak toe poke of a shot left Weidenfeller flat footed as the ball rolled agonisingly into an unguarded net.  For all the ingenuity and intelligence on display during the game, for it to be decided in such an anti-climatic manner was a shame.

It was also a shame that Jurgen Klopp and his troops came away without anything to celebrate; whilst Jupp Heynckes celebrated a treble in his last season before Guardiola came in, Klopp had to face a summer of transition as players moved on.

While they are celebrated and lauded, there are eerie similarities with the side Klopp is in charge of now.  Liverpool are having people salivate over their attacking play this season spearheaded by an amazing individual season by Mo Salah who has scored 41 goals.  It feels that Liverpool have to win the Champions League this year so historians, statisticians and fans can look back at the season and say look what we won with that firepower behind us - instead Salah's season will become a footnote in history and merely that.

And much like Klopp faced then, he faces the possibility of losing one of his best players as Salah may well be sold to PSG or Real Madrid should he back up this domestic campaign with a good showing for Egypt in the World Cup.

Klopp hopefully has learnt that for all your attacking intent, you need to defend as much as score goals, let's hope his chance at history is not thwarted again.

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