Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will go head to head with his old club in the quarter finals of the Europa League. FFT's Chris Flanagan saw Dortmund win at Tottenham and explains why Thomas Tuchel has ensured Klopp hasn't been missed...
As a general rule, football managers don't tend to get applauded out of post-match press conferences.
Most shuffle off with a cordial smile, others have been known to continue an argument on their way out the door – and, boy, does Louis van Gaal love an argument. Applause though? Pretty much never.
Which is why Thomas Tuchel is different.
Tuchel, it has to be said, does not entirely appear like a football manager. Youthful looking and donning a nondescript puffer jacket as he wandered around outside White Hart Lane post-match, it was easy to mistake him as the bus driver, or some other random member of Borussia Dortmund's staff. On appearance at least, it's not much of a stretch to picture him as one of those Seann William Scott characters who repeatedly used to turn up in American movies – that guy who really should have left college years ago but was just having too much fun.
Tuchel is not like that at all, of course – despite his relaxed mood on this occasion, he can be very serious when he wants to be. But Dortmund's student of football looks like he's having fun right now.
Give it up for...
Even if there's nothing imposing about him, and he doesn't dominate a room like a Mourinho or a Klopp, everything about his visit to Tottenham on Thursday night was impressive. Others felt the same. Hence the applause.
Tuchel took the unusual step of making a speech, in English, at the end of his press conference when most managers would simply head straight for the team bus
That came after Tuchel took the unusual step of making a speech, in English, at the end of his press conference when most managers would simply head straight for the team bus, glad that the questioning was over.
First he made a point of thanking his translator for the evening – every Europa League and Champions League game has one, even though Tuchel could have done the job himself, such were his excellent language skills.
Then the Dortmund boss launched into a passionate and unexpected monologue. "I just have something to say," he began. "As a little kid in my garden when I played, I was always a team from the Bundesliga of course. But there was one game I played with my friends when I was Tottenham Hotspur because I liked the name so much. I didn't even know they played in London then.
"For me to play them over two legs was very special, and what I didn't know as a kid but what I felt today was that there are so many friendly people here around the club. It was unbelievable. They made us feel very welcome. Thanks a lot, all the best for the club."
It was genuine and it was endearing, but the evening wasn't just about Tuchel being a thoroughly nice guy. It was about him being a thoroughly nice guy who wins, and wins impressively. At 42, two years younger than Mauricio Pochettino, it felt like the night when England got its first glimpse of Europe’s brightest young boss – a man who has the potential to become one of the next great managers.
1. Tuchel has a habit of following Klopp – and doing even better
Tuchel had rather large shoes to fill when took over as Dortmund boss last summer. He was following a manager who had made himself a club legend, after Klopp had guided BVB to two Bundesliga titles and an appearance in a Champions League final. It earned the bearded supremo respect all over Europe.
Tuchel did even better than Klopp at Mainz – leading the club to the highest finish in their history, fifth in the Bundesliga in 2010/11, before departing in 2014 for a one-year sabbatical
But following Klopp was nothing new for Tuchel. A former youth team coach with Stuttgart and Augsburg, who never played in the Bundesliga and retired from football in his mid-20s because of injury, he rose from a development role at Mainz to take over the first team a year after Klopp’s departure as manager. Tuchel did even better than Klopp at Mainz – leading the club to the highest finish in their history, fifth in the Bundesliga in 2010/11, before departing in 2014 for a one-year sabbatical.
Just as Tuchel ensured Mainz didn’t miss Klopp, Dortmund haven’t missed him either. That's no slight on the man now in charge at Anfield, but testament to just how good a job Tuchel has done with BVB.
No German side had ever won at White Hart Lane before Tuchel's Dortmund turned up, dominated and triumphed pretty comfortably 2-1 on Thursday night, to round off a 5-1 aggregate victory. This, against Tottenham – the same Tottenham that some say are the most gifted team in the Premier League right now. In the politest way possible, Tuchel admitted it himself: Dortmund had made it look easy.
Just over a year ago BVB were flailing about in a Bundesliga relegation battle, after a Chelsea-esque nightmare first half of the 2014/15 season. At White Hart Lane they looked like one of the best sides in Europe. Never mind the favourites for the Europa League, they'd be one of the favourites for the Champions League this season if they were in it.
That they sit five points behind Bayern in the Bundesliga table tells you everything about just how strong Germany's two biggest clubs currently are. With an average of 2.35 points per game, they can count themselves thoroughly unlucky not to be on the way to their first league title in four years. Premier League leaders Leicester have 2.1 points per game. One suspects, then, that Dortmund would do pretty handily in English football right now, backed up by the evidence of their tie against Spurs.
Much of that is down to Tuchel. Even if last season was a difficult one for Dortmund – they eventually recovered to finish seventh – it was never going to be easy for the new and more naturally reserved manager to follow the all-encompassing personality of his predecessor Klopp.
Eleven straight victories at the start of the campaign helped. Of 44 competitive matches this season, Dortmund have now triumphed in 34 of them to give Tuchel a 77% win ratio. They're the sort of numbers that managers dream of.
2. A tactical mix of Klopp and Guardiola
Spurs just couldn't cope with it – and all but one of the teams in the Bundesliga can't either
Tuchel has made subtle tactical alterations since taking over. A huge admirer of Pep Guardiola, he has given Dortmund a heady mix of the possession-based domination of Pep, while retaining elements of Klopp's full-throttle football.
Dortmund's success against Spurs came on the back of a home leg when they had 63% possession and produced 19 shots to Tottenham's three. They are often content to pass the ball around neatly in midfield and wait for an opening. But when they spot an opening and attack, they attack at breakneck speed.
Few sides move forward in such devastating fashion. Spurs just couldn't cope with it – and all but one of the teams in the Bundesliga can't either.
3. He's got the best out of Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan
Tuchel refuses to take credit for Aubameyang's form, but the Dortmund boss has clearly created a team in which the Gabon international can flourish
One of the big reasons why Dortmund can attack at such breakneck speed is because of the attacking trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Marco Reus and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Klopp signed them all, but Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan have had their best seasons this time around under Tuchel.
Aubameyang netted 14 goals in his first season at the club and 24 times last season, but he has found a whole new level this term. The African Player of the Year already has 32 goals, scoring twice against Spurs on Thursday night – the first with a sizzling, swerving strike from outside the box.
Tuchel refuses to take credit for Aubameyang's form, but the Dortmund boss has clearly created a team in which the Gabon international can flourish in ways beyond the expectations of even BVB fans. These days there's rarely a game when he doesn't score. With pace to burn, Aubameyang was a constant threat against Tottenham.
Tuchel has got the best out of Mkhitaryan too. Liverpool lost out to Klopp’s Dortmund in the race to sign the Armenian three years ago and were linked with further interest at the start of this season. The 27-year-old has admitted himself in the past that the €27.5m valuation bestowed on him when he moved from Shakhtar Donetsk weighed heavy at times, but he has flourished this term.
Mkhitaryan’s game is about more than just goals, but his goal tally is a good illustration of just how he has revelled in life under Tuchel. Last season five goals; this term 14 already.
- INTERVIEW Henrikh Mkhitaryan: The playmaker reborn
4. Applause for some astute signings
On a night when BVB just had to make sure that Spurs didn’t build up a head of steam, the 20-year-old Weigl belied his age to control possession calmly and effectively
Tuchel hasn’t spent huge money since taking over at Dortmund, but he has made some pretty astute signings – two of which were on show at White Hart Lane.
Roman Burki, the promising Swiss goalkeeper signed from Freiburg in the summer, was rested to allow veteran Roman Weidenfeller a run-out. But Gonzalo Castro – an €11m arrival from Bayer Leverkusen – added his typical energy and dynamism in midfield, just as he has done for much of the season.
Most impressive was holding midfielder Julian Weigl, plucked from 1860 Munich in the second tier but often an important pivot for Dortmund now. On a night when BVB just had to make sure that Spurs didn’t build up a head of steam, the 20-year-old belied his age to control possession calmly and effectively. Weigl may not have represented Germany at senior level yet, but it will be no surprise if he emerges as a star of the national team in the years to come.
If he does, he will have reason to join the applause for his manager. You sense that plenty more plaudits could be coming Tuchel’s way in the years to come.