The Europa League’s two top favourites BVB and the Reds face each other in the quarter final, first leg at the Westfalenstadion on Thursday night.
Everybody already knows that the game has been billed as the return of Jurgen Klopp not just to Germany, but also to his former club Dortmund, the scene that made his fame as one of the most sought after manager’s in the world.
Klopp famously won the Bundesliga twice with Dortmund and finished runners up in the Champions League. Liverpool come into this game after a 1-1 draw with Tottenham on Saturday, that has seen them drop further points in their race to qualify for the Champions League via the league. It’s now looking unlikely that the Reds will make the top four, which means their only other avenue is to win the Europa League. For BVB, they should already qualify for next seasons Champions League due to still being in the title race in the Bundesliga. They should at least finish runners up.
The big question for the visitors in this first leg is whether Roberto Firmino will be fit enough to start, after sitting out the international break with an injury and missing the Spurs game. Firmino has been Liverpool’s most impressive player along with Coutinho this year. When they have both of the Brazilian duo in the team, they are a much more dangerous creative force to feed Daniel Sturridge upfront. Adam Lallana should be the third attacking midfielder behind Sturridge. If Firmino doesn’t start then James Milner plays further up. The Englishman works hard but is nowhere near as effective as the Brazilian.
Another concern is that Sturridge hasn’t been as quick as his normal self since returning from injury, and he hasn’t been as clinical as he used to be either. Klopp may even start Firmino alone upfront, and expect Divock Origi later. The rest of the team picks itself, with the exception of Dejan Lovren’s partner in defence. Lovren has been in outstanding form, and Liverpool’s next best has been Kolo Toure, though Mama Sakho is the first choice. The Frenchman has been making a number of mistakes lately, while another option is Martin Skrtel who had a horrorfic return game from injury against Southampton. Toure is the best option, but Klopp may keep Sakho to boost his confidence.
Dortmund is also a team that has been given a potentially significant injury boost with first team players Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan, and Sokratis Papastathopoulos all once again training with the first team. Thomas Tuchel’s men are enjoying a sixteen game unbeaten streak in all competitions. The main goal threat is star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who has slotted in 38 goals for his club this season and added 11 assists. Only Neven Subotic is out with injury.
Behind the striker they have outstanding options with Reus, Kagawa and Mkhitaryan. Player for player Dortmund is stronger, but they play a more expansive game now, and that could play into Klopp’s tactical strategy. It would be interesting to see if he can give Dortmund their own medicine by choking them with the pressing style they were once famous for, because of Klopp.
BVB will need to take the lead in the first leg, because the deciding second leg could give Liverpool an advantage at an intimidating Anfield.