1. Anfield enjoys itself
The atmosphere at the Westfalenstadion last week was exceptional, as the Yellow Wall united with the travelling Reds supporters in their own version of You’ll Never Walk Alone. Thus, Anfield felt a sense of responsibility to show their German counterparts that they could equally provide a special environment.
They didn’t disappoint, and the ground’s jubilance was certainly on a par with the Manchester United game in the previous round – although this was for very different reasons. In that match it was about making their arch-rivals feel uneasy, while on this occasion it almost felt like greeting an old-friend.
The 3,000 away fans held a yellow-and-black mosaic aloft reading ‘96’ ahead of kick-off, as the match took place on the eve of the 27th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.
Perhaps the welcome was a little too friendly for Borussia Dortmund, who started the match extremely quickly.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan opened the scoring after just five minutes, after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's initial effort was saved by Simon Mignolet. Then, four minutes later, the visitors doubled their lead when Aubameyang beat Mignolet at his near post following a sublime through ball from Marco Reus.
Liverpool were shell-shocked and took a moment before they offered any sort of response. Divock Origi saw a shot blocked by Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, and then Roberto Firmino's low cross was completely miscued by Adam Lallana.
“When that happens, you can throw your plan in the proverbial bin,” Jurgen Klopp said after the game. Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel admitted: “Everything felt perfect for a long time and I was very proud of the performance I saw from my team.”
2. Both bosses gamble, but Klopp’s pays off
There’s no doubting the impact made by Tuchel since he took over at Dortmund – the coach has given the squad a new sense of purpose and his fresh ideas have helped the team re-energise after a difficult final 12 months under Klopp.
At the weekend, Tuchel had made eight changes against Schalke from the side that drew with Liverpool in the first leg, while Klopp picked seven different players in the 4-1 win over Stoke. However, for Dortmund it was a bigger risk: it was their derby after all, and the 2-2 draw with their local rivals meant that they fell seven points behind Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich.
This effectively ended their title challenge, having worked so hard to close the gap in the last couple of months on Pep Guardiola’s team. But their fast start to the match seemed to have made amends, and even an optimistic Kopite would have felt their team was heading for a Europa League exit.
Dortmund came into the second leg unbeaten in 16 games, so it was inevitably going to take something special to eliminate them from the competition. “There was an atmosphere where everyone except our supporters believed that this was meant to be today,” confessed Tuchel.
3. When did Joe Allen become so important?
Klopp’s favoured holding combination in midfield has been Jordan Henderson and Emre Can since they defeated Aston Villa convincingly on Valentine’s Day – the two box-to-box players have operated as a natural double-pivot and formed a base for Liverpool’s attacking performers to shine.
Both players are happy to take it in turns to venture forward or sit in front of the defence to provide a shield for the centre-backs, while they also have an equal amount of strength, tactical awareness and a decent passing range.
The injury to Henderson, however, opened up a space in the lineup. Lucas is the only natural defensive midfielder in the senior side, but Klopp had spoken of Joe Allen’s importance in the last week.
However, it was James Milner who surprisingly filled the void, and while he has the energy to replace the captain’s dynamism, his distribution isn't at the same level. Milner looked much more assured when Klopp changed the formation to a diamond with the introduction of Allen and Daniel Sturridge, as it allowed him more freedom to roam into wide areas.
Allen helped change the game with his ability to keep possession under pressure. He might not be the ‘Welsh Iniesta’ as Brendan Rodgers once labelled him, but he could still have a future on Merseyside.
4. “An explanation would mean things are logical”
Dortmund are clearly a more organised and cohesive unit than Liverpool at present, and the away side showed glimpses of what Klopp desires from his own team. But the momentum and belief within Anfield made it very difficult in a game that defied logic.
Some of the combination play between Philippe Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana was very easy on the eye at times, but the same could certainly be said from the opposing trio of Shinji Kagawa, Reus and Mkhitaryan.
Three minutes into the second half, Origi sprung the offside trap and poked the ball past the goalkeeper. The noise within the stadium lifted significantly, but that quietened when Mats Hummels’ ball inside of Nathaniel Clyne put Reus through one-vs-one with Mignolet.
Reus expertly side-footed the ball past the Belgian, and appeared to end any hope of a Liverpool comeback. But just like the evenings against Olympiakos and Milan in Istanbul, the team found a way to score the required three goals.
First of all, Coutinho played a one-two with Milner before firing a low shot past Weidenfeller. Then, Mamadou Sakho nodded in a corner from Coutinho to draw the match level at 3-3, but at that stage Dortmund still maintained the advantage due to their superior away goals tally.
In stoppage time, Milner’s cross was met by the head of Dejan Lovren at the far post for the winner, as the whole stadium erupted. “If you expect an explanation, I will probably have to disappoint you because an explanation would mean that things are logical or technical,” said Tuchel.
Liverpool had just four shots on target in the match, as they reached their 17th European semi-final. “That was football at its best, a great game to experience for everyone involved,” Klopp added.
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