Liverpool have been handed another mouthwatering draw in the Europa League, where they will face Borussia Dortmund in the last eight.
After drawing and overcoming arch-rivals Man United in the last 16, it seemed almost nailed on that the sense of narrative would prevail once again in the quarter-final draw.
And so it was, as Liverpool were pitted against Dortmund, making for a sensational reunion for Jurgen Klopp in a huge clash against his former club and the tournament favourites.
Klopp will make an emotional return to the Westfalenstadion, despite making clear he wanted to avoid “the strongest team in the competition,” on April 7th, with the Anfield return to be played a week later.
So what will the Reds face when they take on Dortmund next month?
Manager: Thomas Tuchel
After a modest playing career, Tuchel, like Klopp, made his name at Mainz 05.
He enjoyed a successful period at the Coface Arena – including taking the club to the Europa League – and after a five-year stint and year-long sabbatical, he followed Klopp’s path in moving to the Westfalenstadion.
Taking over in the summer, in his first season in charge Tuchel has quickly established a burgeoning reputation as one of Europe’s most exciting upcoming managerial talents.
The respectful head coach made no secret of crediting Klopp’s work upon his arrival, revealing his intentions to build on the “great” foundation his predecessor installed.
The 42-year-old has done just as he planned, revitalising Dortmund, making quick early progress as BVB have become a force again in both domestic and European competition.
This has no doubt been down to the subtle tactical changes and flexible approach he has employed since taking charge; balancing aspects of Klopp’s successful sides alongside making his own mark on his team.
A self-proclaimed fan of Pep Guardiola’s style, Tuchel has moved away from the thrilling, edge-of-the-seat, blitzing style associated with Klopp’s teams, bringing a more patient, possession-based approach to complement the high-intensity, off-ball pressing his side still use.
Tactically flexible and happy to operate with a number of different systems – including 4-1-4-1, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 – an intriguing tactical contest awaits against the man he took over from in the coming weeks.
It’s a battle that will grip the attention of the footballing world, and one the Dortmund boss is relishing: “We want to measure ourselves against the best, and we meet a top opponent. For all football fans this is a dream draw.”
Dortmund are a team littered with top-quality players from back to front, and Klopp will know full well who his team must be wary of as they look to reach the semi-finals.
One of those is Gabonese goal machine Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who Klopp signed for a measly £9 million from Saint Etienne in 2013.
The lightning-quick striker has notched an incredible 22 goals in 25 league games this season – as well as hitting seven in seven games in Europe – and will be one of world football’s hottest properties in the summer, with his blistering pace and ice-cool finishing ability sure to attract many suitors.
One time Liverpool target and poster boy of Armenian football, Henrikh Mkhitaryan – who opted to play for Klopp rather than move to Anfield in summer 2013 – is also a key figure of Tuchel’s side with his creativity and explosiveness from the left of Dortmund’s attack contributing nine goals and 13 assists in the Bundesliga.
Alongside the much coveted Marco Reus, surprise package of the season, Julian Weigl, and even Shinji Kagawa – showing the quality and depth in the Dortmund ranks – Liverpool’s defence are certainly in for a tough 180 minutes of action.
In midfield, the industrious and controlling play of Ilkay Gundogan – another player who will be sought after this summer – can also not be overlooked, with the Germany international a highly technical, tenacious and classy operator between defence and attack for Tuchel’s side.
The Season So Far
In his first season at the helm, Tuchel has taken no time in attempting to spearhead Dortmund to the glories Klopp enjoyed at the Westfalenstadion.
With 61 points from 26 games, they sit just five points behind Bayern Munich with the title race still wide open ahead of the final eight games of the season – an achievement in itself in a season few predicted Dortmund to be in the mix for the title.
They also have a DFB-Pokal semi-final to look forward to against Hertha Berlin as the new boss looks for his first silverware in charge.
Dortmund have impressed in European competition too, growing as the tournament has unfolded – shown as they finished second to Russian outfit Krasnodar in the group stage before moving smoothly through the gears and showing some of their ruthless best in the first knockout rounds.
Their impressive displays have seen them widely tipped as favourites to win the trophy and secure a Champions League return – something that it is hard to see anyone stopping.
Klopp said before the draw that “if you want to win this competition then you have to beat the best teams,” and the Reds certainly will have to after being handed the toughest draw possible.
Klopp will have to call on his expert knowledge of the German game to negotiate the path into the last four as the Reds seek the trophy with the finishing line now in sight.