All eyes will be turned towards Jürgen Klopp as his former side Borussia Dortmund take on Liverpool in the first leg of the Europa League quarter finals at the Westfalenstadion, Dortmund.
An extremely popular figure among both sets of fans, Klopp is in for an emotional encounter at his old home.
Dortmund, aiming to become only the fourth side to win all 3 major UEFA trophies, rested several key players in the 3-2 home win against Werder Bremen over the weekend. Adrian Ramos scored late to complete a comeback victory. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Shinji Kagawa were the other goalscorers.
Liverpool, on the other hand, fielded a full strength squad and drew 1-1 at home to title hopefuls Tottenham on Saturday, with Philippe Coutinho netting for the Reds.
Both sides entered the quarter final stages by defeating English opponents. Dortmund comfortably dismantled Tottenham 5-1 on aggregate, while Liverpool had to sweat it out a bit more with a 3-1 win over domestic rivals Manchester United.
Borussia Dortmund: Is Tuchel the anti-Klopp?
Jürgen Klopp, a Dortmund legend in his 7 years at the club, was the man who made the Black and Yellows into a European giant, but the club has certainly moved on after appointing Thomas Tuchel as head coach.
The former Mainz man has fixed all the problems from Klopp’s past seasons, and has made the team better equipped to deal with different oppositions. Tuchel’s build-up play and pragmatic approach to shot-taking have greatly improved on his predecessor’s ‘heavy metal’ football.
A revitalised Marcel Schmelzer looks to be back to his best, and the introduction of young Julian Weigl to the team has worked wonders. Further, Tuchel’s constant positional rotation of his attacking midfield — Reus, Kagawa and Mkhitaryan — has made Dortmund a difficult team to predict.
Striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang now has 37 goals in 38 games for club and country this season and is the man to watch out for. The supporting midfield duo of Julian Weigl and Ilkay Gündogan have performed brilliantly as well, but with Gündogan just returning from injury, it seems unlikely that he would start on Thursday.
Should the German not recover in time, ex-Liverpool man Nuri Sahin and the in-form Gonzalo Castro may have to fight for the single spot in midfield. Sahin, the more defensive alternative, could be deadly as a deep-lying playmaker and will help Dortmund’s possession play.
However, vulnerability to direct attacks has stopped BVB from cruising to victory every time, and they may seem incapable of stopping opponents from creating chances at times. Goalkeeping is also a bit of a worry as both Roman Weidenfeller and Roman Bürki have slipped up on various occasions this season.
It will also be interesting to see if Sven Bender keeps his place in defence, or if Sokratis Papastathopoulos returns to partner Mats Hummels. Bender, a midfielder by trade, has been used as a centre-back almost exclusively under Tuchel, and with his efficient passing and no-nonsense tackling, it would seem likely that Tuchel would prefer him to the Greek.
Neven Subotic is the only absentee through injury.
Liverpool FC: a work in progress
Since taking over from Brendan Rodgers, Jürgen Klopp has left a visible impact at the club — his trademark high-pressing game and through-the-middle-attacks have helped Liverpool greatly. However, results have been inconsistent and it is evident that the team needs more time.
Brazilian duo Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho have been Liverpool’s best players so far, and with Klopp’s love for direct attacking midfielders, it is easy to see why. The pair have racked up 15 goals and 12 assists this season, overshadowing strikers Daniel Sturridge and Christian Benteke.
Although they are still unbeaten in the Europa League, Liverpool have found goals hard to come by in the competition. Among the 6 sides still left in the competition that started in the Europa League, Liverpool (10) have scored the fewest. Further, Liverpool’s top scorers in the competition Adam Lallana and James Milner just have 4 goals between them, as compared to Dortmund’s Reus and Aubameyang who have 11.
Just like their German opposition, Liverpool are sometimes prone to individual errors and have found it tough to protect their lead on numerous occasions the season. Keeper Simon Mignolet too has had a hard time as the first-choice keeper. Another concern for Klopp’s side is that three of his back four are walking the suspension tightrope — Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno — and are all a booking away from missing the return leg of the fixture.
Firmino, who missed the weekend game against Tottenham with a hamstring injury, will need to pass a late fitness test if he hopes to make it to the matchday squad. Joe Allen, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez are still nursing long term-injuries and will not be available for selection on Thursday.
The Key Battle: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang vs Mamadou Sakho
African player of the year and BVB top scorer Aubameyang has scored 7 times in Europe this season and is Dortmund’s key man. His skill on the counter and tendency to show up when it matters most makes him a nightmare to deal with.
However if there’s any man up to the task, it is French international Mamadou Sakho. A player capable of matching the Gabonese in terms of speed, Sakho will also be aided by the Croatian Dejan Lovren. It will be interesting to see whether the duo can contain the Dortmund star, or if they will be beaten by his trademark pace and trickery.
What to expect
Dortmund enter the tie as favourites, and for good reason. They have been nearly impossible to stop and after tremendous performances in the knockout rounds against Porto and Tottenham, there is no doubting that they are the favourites for the Europa League title.
Liverpool have struggled in Germany earlier in the competition against Augsburg, and with top scorer Firmino likely to miss out, Klopp’s chances of hurting his old club seems bleak. However, Klopp’s presence could provide his team with a much needed morale boost, while lulling the Dortmund crowd into a false sense of security.
Expect a game with lots of chances for the hosts in the first leg of El Kloppico.