MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Thursday’s enticing Europa League tie between Dortmund and Liverpool.
Borussia Dortmund v Liverpool | Thursday 20.05 | BT Sport Europe
Jurgen Klopp will make his much-anticipated return to Borussia Dortmund with Liverpool in the Europa League on Thursday night, 320 days after bidding a tear-jerking goodbye to the club.
‘Kloppo’ spent seven successful years in North Rhine-Westphalia, guiding Die Schwarzgelben to a stunning 180/319 (56%) victories, back-to-back Bundesliga titles and a Champions League final. But the former BVB boss is heading back to the Westfalenstadion for the first time since parting ways, eager to oust his former lover.
It’ll be an emotionally-charged evening with the German, who has a God-like standing among Dortmund fans, expected to receive a rapturous response from the 81,000 capacity-crowd – so much so, home officials are concerned the reception could burden Die Schwarzgelben’s hopes of picking up a positive result.
On the surface it may seem like Dortmund haven’t changed much since Klopp left in May. Only three new signings have made more than 25 appearances and one, goalkeeper Roman Burki, isn’t likely to feature here. But the team’s tactical approach under new head coach Thomas Tuchel is mostly certainly distinctive.
No longer do BVB insist on the ‘heavy metal football’ their predecessor religiously demanded. No longer do BVB press the opposition in every position, for every minute of the match. No longer are BVB vulnerable to the counter.
Tuchel’s team are more reserved; they still enjoy pressing, playing at pace and working hard all over the park but in possession, Die Schwarzgelben are composed and patient. The Klopp model has been fine-tuned to ensure there’s less running, more passing and even more flexibility.
This season Dortmund have employed a number of weird and wonderful formations. Instead of the routine 4-2-3-1 favoured by Klopp, the Bundesliga boys have fielded 3-1-4-2, 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1 systems in the past month alone.
The arrival of 20-year-old Julian Weigl and Gonzalo Castro have bolstered the midfield options and the new approach has allowed the likes of Mats Hummels and Ilkay Gundogan to return to their world class selves after a noticeable dip in form last year.
Going forward, playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan is reborn – he’s already notched 16 goals and provided 20 assists this term – and alongside the devastatingly clinical Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus, the trio have plundered 69 goals this campaign. The team as a whole have comfortably cleared three-figures in the goals column.
The remarkable rebirth of Dortmund has seen the side run table-topping Bayern Munich close – the gap is still only five points with six games to play – and the hosts have already booked a place in the DFB Pokal semi-finals and deservedly taken the title of Europa League outright favourites following a phenomenal four-match winning spree against both Porto and Spurs in the knockout rounds.
BVB powered past Porto and Spurs by an aggregate margin of 8-1 – 5-0 at the Westfalenstadion – meaning their 22 home fixtures this season have seen Tuchel’s troops return W19-D2-L1, scoring at least twice on 19 occasions. Their only reverse came when Europa League qualification from their pool was already assured.
Taking 2016 in isolation, Dortmund have W14-D2-L0, keeping their sheets clean in 10 of those 16 fixtures and having already held Bayern to a goalless draw on home soil, the hosts have already dispatched all other top-half Bundesliga opponents, with the remainder of the top-six being downed by two-goal margins or more.
That’s the lay of the land for Klopp and Liverpool when they pitch up on Thursday night. Can the Reds’ rickety defensive structure cope with such a fearsome front-three? I’d argue, no.
Liverpool’s aim and objective before arriving in Germany is surely to remain in the tie ahead of the second leg at Anfield in eight days time. However, achieving such a feat will be easier said than done with the Merseysiders a model of inconsistency.
There’s an argument that suggests Klopp’s charges fare well against the Premier League’s elite; Manchester City were taken to penalties in the Capital One Cup final and seen off impressively in both league fixtures, Manchester United comfortably dispatched over two Europa League legs, Chelsea swatted aside at Stamford Bridge, Spurs held to a draw at White Hart Lane. And although the Reds were beaten in Leicester, they do account for one of the Foxes’ two Premier League losses this term.
But this is going to be Liverpool’s biggest test of 2015/16. Klopp’s knowledge of his former squad has been cited as an obvious advantage and their tally of only six goals conceded in their past 12 Europa League games does deserve credit.
The guests have been bleak operators for goals-based punters in this season’s competition – nine of the Merseysiders’ 10 continental clashes have featured Under 2.5 Goals winners with three of their five away days producing fewer than two goals – but would a routine home result really surprise us?
Liverpool have W4-D8-L7 on their Europa League travels since 2009/10 and although they remain unbeaten in this season’s competition, Thursday night’s examination looks too tricky to pass.
Dortmund have recorded clean sheets in six of their past eight games as hosts and seven of Liverpool’s 10 losses across all competitions have arrived ‘to nil’, so a repeat scenario shouldn’t be dismissed.
However, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Roberto Firmino have impressed in recent weeks so I’ll leave that angle alone and just take a confident and simplified approach by backing Dortmund -1 on the Asian Handicap line at 9/10 (Bet365).
With this selection, my stake will be returned should BVB only bag a victory by a one-goal margin. A win by two or more goals returns profit with a draw or shock Liverpool triumph the only ways in which we’ll end up out of pocket.
Borussia Dortmund v Liverpool – Borussia Dortmund -1 Asian Handicap (9/10 Bet365)
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