Liverpool (AFP) – In his first press conference as Liverpool manager last October, Jurgen Klopp said that he wanted to turn the club’s supporters from “doubters into believers”.
The evidence of his side’s thrilling Europa League quarter-final comeback against Borussia Dortmund suggests that he is well on his way.
Liverpool trailed 2-0 and 3-1 at Anfield on Thursday, only for second-half goals from Philippe Coutinho, Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren to engineer a scarcely believable 5-4 aggregate victory that left club stalwarts comparing Klopp to their greatest ever manager.
“When Jurgen Klopp was appointed, everyone in England thought it was a great job,” former Liverpool centre-back Mark Lawrenson, who contributed to five league title triumphs in the 1980s, told BBC radio.
“There’s touches of (Bill) Shankly in there. He’s a really, really good fit and he has raised this average team.”
Ever the romantic, Klopp spoke in reverential tones about Anfield’s “special atmosphere” prior to his first game there against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League in October.
But a drab 1-1 draw played out in front of a hushed crowd dampened some of the early enthusiasm and Klopp was at pains afterwards to assert that he should not be seen as the saviour of English football.
“I don’t think at this moment I should come here and change the world of football,” he said. “I’m not strong enough, not smart enough.”
Six months later, the headlines on the sports pages of Britain’s newspapers on Friday suggested that Anfield has indeed found its new messiah.
“Merseyside miracle,” said the Daily Mirror. “Klopp’s miracle,” was the verdict of local newspaper the Liverpool Echo. The Times called it: “The miracle of Anfield”.
Where the atmosphere had been as flat as a pancake in that game against Rubin Kazan, against Klopp’s former club Dortmund it crackled with an intensity that recalled the stadium’s greatest European nights.
– ‘Fighting football’ –
The massed ranks of flare-wielding fans who assembled in the street to greet the Liverpool team bus prior to the game brought to mind the frenzy of excitement provoked by the team’s tilt at the Premier League title in 2014 under Klopp’s predecessor Brendan Rodgers.
Right from the start, Klopp made no secret of his desire to harness the power of the Anfield crowd.
He was derided in December for leading his players in a salute of the Kop after Divock Origi’s 96th-minute equaliser had rescued a 2-2 draw against mid-table West Bromwich Albion.
But it was all part of his attempts to foster a sense of symbiosis between crowd and team — a strategy that reached a dizzying apogee against Dortmund.
The BBC called it “one of the most dramatic comebacks Anfield has seen”.
Klopp revealed that he had invoked the spirit of the club’s unforgettable comeback from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul and the fightback also brought to mind the 3-1 win over Olympiakos earlier in that season’s competition that culminated in a decisive 86th-minute goal by Steven Gerrard.
Klopp took something of a gamble against Dortmund by replacing injured midfielder Jordan Henderson with Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino.
It looked a costly miscalculation as Dortmund raced into a 2-0 lead, but Klopp stuck to his guns in the second half and was rewarded with the 48th-minute Origi goal that set the tone for the late crescendo.
It was, in Klopp’s own phrase, “fighting football” — “rainy day, heavy pitch, 5-5, everybody is dirty in the face and goes home and cannot play for weeks after”. Well, 5-4.
The ease with which Dortmund cut Liverpool apart revealed defensive shortcomings that Klopp will have to address, with Sakho’s poor positioning a factor in all three of the German side’s goals.
But his players now have precious momentum and that intangible, all-important element that was the calling card of both Klopp’s great Dortmund team and the finest Liverpool sides of yesteryear: belief.