06 April 2016

Liverpool at Borussia Dortmund 04.07.16

3:05pm ET, live in the US on Fox Sports 1

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Tottenham (h); 2-3 Southampton (a); 1-1 United (a)
Dortmund: 3-2 Werder Bremen (h); 3-1 Augsburg (a); 2-1 Tottenham (a)

Previous EL rounds:
Liverpool: 1-1 United (a), 2-0 United (h); 1-0 Augsburg (h), 0-0 Augsburg (a); 0-0 Sion (a); 2-1 Bordeaux (h); 1-0 Kazan (a); 1-1 Kazan (h); 1-1 Sion (h); 1-1 Bordeaux (a)
Dortmund: 2-1 Tottenham (a), 3-0 Tottenham (h); 1-0 Porto (a), 2-0 Porto (h); 0-1 PAOK (h); 0-1 Krasnodar (a); 4-0 Qabala (h); 3-1 Qabala (a); 1-1 PAOK (a); 2-1 Krasnodar (h); 7-2 Odd (h); 3-4 Odd (a); 5-0 Wolfsberger (h); 1-0 Wolfsberger (a)

Goalscorers (Europe):
Liverpool: Lallana, Milner 2; Benteke, Can, Coutinho, Firmino, Ibe, Sturridge 1
Dortmund: Aubameyang 10; Reus 8; Mkhitaryan 6; Kagawa 3; Castro, Ginter, Gündogan, Hoffman, Park, Piszczek 1

Referee: Carlos Velasco Carballo (ESP)

Incidentally, the same referee in charge of Liverpool's 2-0 win over Manchester United last month.

Guess at a line-up:
Clyne Lovren Sakho Moreno
Henderson Can Milner
Lallana Firmino Coutinho

Forget about The Jürgen Klopp Derby for a second. It'll be lovely and nostalgic and a great reception in a great venue against a great side, but this isn't a friendly. It's the quarterfinals of a European competition. It's Liverpool's only remaining chance at a trophy, even if it's an unlikely chance. It's Liverpool best chance of redeeming this troublesome, inconsistent season.

The love-fest is getting a little nauseating, guys.

So let's treat this like an actual, contentious football match. How the hell are Liverpool going to stop this side?

Is Firmino fit to start and does Liverpool do what Liverpool have done in almost every recent match or change tactics and formation to try to cope with Dortmund's firepower?

I'm tempted to think that Liverpool will revert to a 4-3-3, with either Firmino or Sturridge up front rather than both: more solidity in midfield, with either Milner or Allen joining Henderson and Can, and a more counter-attacking style against a side that'll see an awful lot of the ball. It'd be no surprise to see Liverpool dance with what brung them. The 4-2-3-1/4-4-2; the same XI as Sunday if Firmino's unavailable or with the Brazilian replacing either Lallana or Milner (the latter, please).

But Liverpool will necessarily be more reliant on the counter-attack. On heavily pressing Dortmund's defense and midfield. On closing off the space for players like Mkhitaryan, Reus, Kagawa, etc. to operate, on more protection for an error-prone defense that'll probably play deeper and need more options to quickly pass out from the back. Extra protection in front of the defense, better pressers up front, a more cohesive counter-attacking front three – ideally, the same as we saw at Manchester City a few months back.

The above line-up is not a slight on Sturridge. Sure, he's not been at his best, but he remains a crucial player for Liverpool. I just think that, given form and opposition, Liverpool could be better suited with him coming off the bench. And that's only if Firmino's availability gives Liverpool the option.

Meanwhile, if not for Bayern Munich, Dortmund would be running away with the Bundesliga, five points behind Bayern but 19 points ahead of third-place Hertha Berlin. Tuchel's revived the side which finished seventh last season, adding more possession, control, and defensive solidity to Klopp's heavy metal football.

Barcelona and Bayern seemingly remain the definitive top tier, but Dortmund are in the conversation for the next group, along with the likes of Juventus, PSG, Real Madrid, and Atletico. It remains baffling that they fell apart to such a degree last season to be in the Europa League this season. And to allow Jürgen Klopp to become Liverpool's manager

The biggest difference has been in attack. Like Liverpool this season, Dortmund vastly underperformed xG last season, the stats suggesting they were and should have been much better than their output. That's not the case now, having scored 67 goals through 28 league matches, one more than Bayern. Marco Reus remains Marco Reus, Aubameyang has continued to develop into a complete Ferrari speedster, and Henrikh of House Mkhitaryan has been a totally different player under Tuchel. Combined, those three players have scored 43 league goals this season. Liverpool, in total and in two more matches, have 46.

It's not just the attack though. Only Bayern have conceded fewer Bundesliga goals: 27 to Dortmund's 28. Dortmund have conceded just once in the four Europa League knock-out games: the last match at Tottenham, a late consolation with the tie already won. It doesn't happen often, but Dortmund's defense can be beaten: they conceded, albeit just once, in both league matches against Augsburg this season, a side that never looked like scoring against Liverpool. Of course, they also won those matches 5-1 and 3-1. Dortmund dropped two quick goals, albeit with a makeshift center-back pairing, to relegation-threatened Bremen last week. Of course, then two substitutes scored within five minutes to reclaim the lead.

And Dortmund won't have the makeshift center-back problem tomorrow. Hummels, Sokratis, and Sahin are all available after missing matches recently, while Gündogan may be as well, also back in training but still a slight doubt because of the foot injury which kept him out for the last month. Subotic is definitely absent.

So the XI is mostly likely Bürki; Piszczek, Sokratis, Hummels, Schmelzer; Weigl, Gündogan; Kagawa, Mkhitaryan, Reus; Aubameyang. If Gündogan's unavailable, it could be Sahin, Castro, or Bender in midfield. The improved Ginter could keep his spot in defense if Tuchel's wary of bringing both Sokratis and Hummels back in at the same time. Durm could play at right back in place of Piszczek or in midfield in place of Kagawa. Heck, Dortmund's even gone three at the back at times, something like a 3-4-2-1, last season a month ago in the home draw with Bayern.

It must be nice to have impressive options in literally every area of the pitch.

All of the above isn't to say that Liverpool can't win. They don't even need to win tomorrow to win the tie, although isn't not hard to argue that Liverpool are better built to compete away rather than at home, at least in this match-up.

But it ain't gonna be easy. Liverpool will have to be at its best – the chance creation and finishing that we saw in both league meetings against City combined with the defensive solidity that's sometimes present, mostly against England's lesser lights. And, honestly, Dortmund will have to be off their game as well.

Crazier things have happened. To Liverpool, by Liverpool, this season and in past memorable European matches. And at the very least, you can rest assured that Liverpool won't make it easy for Dortmund.

Not in the Jürgen Klopp Derby.

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