Why Reputations Are On The Line As Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool Meet Their Makers In Dortmund


‘Klopp Cam’ is actually a thing, you know.

What started out as an exaggeration over just how much attention there is on the Liverpool manager during his return to his former club tonight has actually come to pass, with a German TV channel promising viewers uninterrupted coverage of his every leap, bellow and gesticulation from a touchline which will feel so familiar.

As soon as Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool were drawn together, these meetings over the next week became so much more than ‘just’ a Europa League quarter-final.

It was ‘El Klopp-ico’ – the fusion of the charismatic German’s past and his future, but the pervading worry is whether or not the players presently available to him will be good enough to deal with one of the most vibrant, devastating teams in Europe.

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Because as Klopp would doubtless agree, Dortmund are just cool aren’t they?

Everything from the black and yellow kit to the fanatical supporters to the atmosphere to the Aubameyangs to the Reuses to the Hummelses just screams coolness. They are a club to be admired, but not copied, because copying the cool kid in school was never the message that was drummed into us in our formative years. You have to find a coolness which works for you.

And so Klopp – a manager who wants his teams to be expressions of the looks on his face like no other – is setting about the task of turning this Liverpool into his Liverpool. There have been steady if unspectacular changes over his first six months, and more will follow in the summer.

In Dortmund he faces a team moulded in his own image. The vast majority of the starting lineup will have played for the club under him, and all of them will have been attracted to them because of him. How could they not be?

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Yet in Liverpool Klopp has taken on a football project which is quite unlike any other. The levels of expectation compared to actual reality have long since taken on a life of their own. Fans sing about dominating Europe when their team is behind West Ham, Southampton and Stoke in the Premier League table.

There is hope. Of course there is hope. There’s always been hope, but this hope is bearded and wears glasses and says funny things. He’s also won two Bundesliga titles in the era of Bayern Munich’s dominance, as well as reached a Champions League final.

You can’t guarantee anything in football, but it would be a huge surprise if Liverpool weren’t better next season. They won’t be ninth at the start of April 2017, and the question which should be uppermost in Klopp’s mind is which of the players he’s got to choose from tonight will be coming along for that ride.

Some have used his first six months to cement their places in those plans. Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne will play more often than they don’t next season, and this trip to Dortmund provides those who aren’t on that list with an opportunity to show that they can be.

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Reputations could be on the line as Klopp sends out his side to play against what he hopes they can become.

In midfield, Jordan Henderson – playing like an injured cricketer who needs a runner all season – and James Milner – all highs and lows for a supposedly consistent performer – will have a huge job on their hands to try and make an impact against a side whose midfield is usually just there as a route to their attack.

Klopp is likely to take a similar approach to the one he adopted on his side’s previous visit to Germany to face Augsburg in February when pragmatism forced a 0-0 draw, but this will be 10 times and 40 Bundesliga points harder.

If his side can rise to the occasion and take a decent result back to Anfield – anything from a win to a one-goal defeat, basically – then several of his players will have gone up in his estimation.

Because if there is ever a man who knows how tough it is to play in Dortmund, it is him.

 

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