Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool drew 1-1 in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals in Signal Iduna Park on Thursday evening. In the much anticipated return of Jürgen Klopp to his former club, Dortmund were the better side but had to thank their veteran goalkeeper for the result.
Ilkay Gündogan didn’t make the squad despite returning to team training during the week after a four-week spell nursing a bruised foot. With the midfield maestro missing, Erik Durm kept his spot on the right wing, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan stayed inside to take on some of Gündogan’s responsibilities.
Mats Hummels did return to the lineup, relegating Matthias Ginter to the bench. Sitting next to him was centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos, having recovered from a stomach bug, but not Adrian Ramos, who missed the final training session for reasons unknown at the moment.
Roman Weidenfeller returned to his spot between the sticks as per usual in the Europa League.
Liverpool expectedly pressed Dortmund early in the build-up phase, which led to a string of long balls in the early goings. The Black and Yellows focused on the right side, where Lukasz Piszczek and Durm saw a lot of action against the likes of Alberto Moreno, Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho.
Unfortunately for Dortmund, Durm had probably his worst game of the season so far, losing possession time and time again.
Overall, they started sloppily, with a number of players misplacing passes.
Whenever the hosts found openings, however, they were dangerous. A brilliant pass from Julian Weigl to Marcel Schmelzer gave them a first opportunity to open the scoring, but Mkhitaryan couldn’t finish the move, with Mamadou Sakho blocking his shot on the goal line.
Liverpool’s first chance of the game fell to centre-back Dejan Lovren, who didn’t trouble Weidenfeller despite winning a relatively free header. The Croat stumbled into the 35-year-old ‘keeper after his attempt, with Weidenfeller needing medical attention for what looked like a cut to his lip.
A deflected free-kick from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and later a shot from Mkhitaryan going just wide of the goal were signs of Dortmund’s superiority, but it was Liverpool who opened the scoring.
Hummels misjudged a long ball and subsequently lost an aerial duel with James Milner, who flicked the ball towards Divock Origi. The Belgian fired away a shot and a deflection from Piszczek put the ball into the net.
Origi could’ve doubled the visitors’ lead in stoppage time, but was denied superbly by Weidenfeller.
Nuri Sahin replaced Durm, with Dortmund moving to a more classic 4-2-3-1 alignment. Gonzalo Castro played in the 10-space, while Mkhitaryan moved to the right wing. Sahin calmed the game down a bit, providing a passing outlet to his team-mates.
Hummels turned things up in the second half, playing a number of outstanding passes from the back and winning the ball thanks to his strong anticipation time and time again.
Mkhitaryan assisted his side’s equalizer just four minutes into the second period, swinging in a beautiful cross after a short corner. Skipper Hummels’ run was unmarked and Adam Lallana’s attempt to challenge his header was hopeless. Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet got a hand to it, but Hummels’ strong header still made it 1-1.
Liverpool reacted well to the goal and had three chances within 31 seconds in the 51st/52nd minute to go ahead again, but Weidenfeller denied Coutinho and Nathaniel Clyne. Especially the first save against the Brazilian was world-class.
A Marco Reus free-kick barely troubled Mignolet in the 59th minute, and then the game almost fizzled out.
Head coach Thomas Tuchel tried to liven things up again by bringing on Christian Pulisic for the quiet Aubameyang 13 minutes from time, with Reus moving up front, but Dortmund failed to create anything meaningful.
What It Means
The 1-1 isn’t a terrible result, but certainly not one to be overly happy with, either. The away goal could prove crucial for Liverpool, although Dortmund showed they have the quality to crack the Reds open despite not playing at their best.
Gündogan’s return for the second leg will be huge, as some of his team-mates struggled with Liverpool’s aggressiveness.
Thursday’s visitors showed why they’re a dangerous opponent for Dortmund. Klopp managed what he’s done so often with the Black and Yellows: He dragged the opponent down to his team’s level.
The Reds arguably had the better chances to win the game, but an incredible performance from Weidenfeller kept Dortmund in the tie.