A Klopp team faced a superior opponent and, of course, made it ugly. Borussia Dortmund dominated the match for the better part of 90 minutes, but didn’t seem too comfortable with Liverpool’s counterattacking efforts. Here are three tactical talking points from Thursday night’s Europa League clash.
1. Klopp goes vintage BVB, again
It is an open secret. Jürgen Klopp has altered Liverpool’s style of play to a point where the Reds look like the old version of Borussia Dortmund. And, therefore, it seems logical that his team thrive when facing a supposedly superior side. That was the case when Liverpool travelled to Dortmund and squared off against BVB.
The Reds employed three narrowly positioned centre-midfielders to protect the middle of the pitch. Although Liverpool’s strategy worked out to some extent, as they were able to intercept a few passes or dispossess Dortmund in midfield, Klopp’s side were usually too far away from Roman Weidenfeller’s goal to represent a threat. Yet, they had an ace in the hole.
Klopp chose Divick Origi over Daniel Sturridge upfront. He wanted the more explosive centre-forward to threaten Dortmund on the break and stretch the defence in moments in which Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool’s attacking wingers, floated the centre.
It was somewhat of a hail mary Klopp threw, yet his team scored the go-ahead goal in the 36th minute, as Milner won an important aerial duel against Mats Hummels, who had left his position at the back and made a desperate effort after a high diagonal pass from Liverpool’s left side. Origi received the ball, shoved off Lukasz Piszczek to have enough room to turn his hip and score with a low shot. Although the Reds had a few additional chances they missed after the half-time break, they netted that one desirable away goal and will go into the second match with a clear advantage, as Dortmund only scored an equalising goal on Thursday night.
2. Tuchel uses an asymmetrical back five, again
One could question Thomas Tuchel’s overall choice of personnel considering the fact that BVB let Jakub Blaszczykowski go last summer, while Erik Durm, a winger with a similarly linear style, has picked up a lot of playing time as of late. The answer is simple. Used as a right-back/right-winger hybrid in Tuchel’s newly established five-at-the-back system, Durm has found his perfect role in which he helps Piszczek defend the wider zones while also bombing down the flank to support Dortmund’s attacking line. His youth and experience at full-back apparently gave him an edge over fan favourite Kuba.
Against Liverpool, Tuchel put emphasis on overloading the right side, involving Piszczek, Durm and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, in order to lead the action towards Mamadou Sakho, putting pressure on him with counterpressing attacks. However, Durm didn’t break through Liverpool’s lines that often and wasn’t of great help to Mkhitaryan in terms of supporting the counterpress on the right side. Plus, Sakho was comfortable enough to avoid turnovers in the own third.
3. Dominating, not destructing
Of course, Dortmund saw much more of the ball throughout, yet were not able to capitalise from it as much as necessary. Tuchel’s team either struggled with Liverpool’s situational high press, when Lallana and Coutinho charged forward to get right in front of the wider positioned defenders in Dortmund’s build-up play, or didn’t effectively utilise the possession they had in the final third.
Especially Mkhitaryan got in behind Liverpool’s midfield line quite often during the first half, but only created a few chances out of it. At half-time, Tuchel gave up his initial plan, as he brought on Nuri Sahin for Durm, changing the system into a 4-2-3-1. From then on, Mkhitaryan mostly hugged the touchline on the right, with Gonzalo Castro drifting to the right in addition, while Marco Reus pushed towards the offside line in the left half-space, opening up zones for Marcel Schmelzer to run into. Mkhitaryan on the right and Schmelzer on the left received a couple of diagonal long balls throughout the second half, though BVB couldn’t take advantage of those situations.