It may ‘only’ be the Europa League, but Liverpool’s season has boiled down to this competition which holds the significant reward of a place in next season’s Champions League for the winners. Having effectively thrown away any chances of a top four finish in the second half capitulation against Southampton, the Europa League is the golden ticket to Europe’s elite competition for Klopp and his side.
Thursday night’s quarter-final first leg 1-1 draw at Borussia Dortmund puts the Reds in a strong position ahead of the return leg at Anfield next week, with Divock Origi’s 36th minute away goal a potentially crucial strike if Liverpool are to progress to the semi-finals. Tuchel’s Dortmund side are unbeaten in 2016 but as the 90 minutes blew they knew they’d been in a real contest. Widely considered favorites to win the competition, Liverpool should have little to fear at Anfield next week having stifled Dortmund on their own turf.
Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho formed an imperious barrier at the back, making countless vital blocks and interceptions to keep the yellow and black shirts at bay. Full backs Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno were highly disciplined and stuck to their task superbly, while Emre Can put in a monumental shift in midfield. Up front, Divock Origi repaid Jurgen Klopp’s faith after selecting the young Belgian ahead of Daniel Sturridge. Origi’s pace, work rate and splendid hold up play, capped off with a cool finish, did his credentials no harm at all.
This was an outstanding display, arguably the most accomplished peformance under Jurgen Klopp thus far given the quality of opposition Liverpool were up against. The attacking trident of Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are full of quality, having wreaked havoc in the Bundesliga this season. On this occasion, however, their threat was nullfied by Liverpool’s immaculate defensive organisation.
Klopp will be disappointed at the manner in which his side momentarily switched off to allow Hummels to head the equaliser at the start of the second half, but ultimately this was a night in which Liverpool were more than deserving of their draw- and could feasibly have come away with a memorable victory if it wasn’t for the goalkeeping heroics of Roman Weidenfeller.
Not since the Rafael Benitez era have Liverpool produced such a mature and accomplished European away performance, as Jurgen Klopp’s side executed their game plan impressively. Liverpool’s league position does not reflect the quality this side is capable of. This was a measure of how far Liverpool have come under the German’s management, a far cry from the flat and uninspired European performances under Brendan Rodgers.
Klopp’s side were brimming with desire and confidence, matching steely defensive organisation with a strong, fearless mentality. There is still much work to do, and Dortmund will come to Anfield feeling they have every chance of progressing to the next round. For now, though, the job is done and Klopp could be proud of his return to the Westfalenstadion. These are the kind of nights which define Liverpool as a club, and next week’s perfectly poised return leg at Anfield promises to be another truly special occasion.