As Jurgen Klopp prepared his Liverpool squad to take on his former side, Dortmund, in Thursday night’s Europa League quarter-final first leg, few expected the German to leave his star striker on the substitutes’ bench.
But with Origi included ahead of Daniel Sturridge, Klopp had made a signal of intent, and a bold tactical move in what was arguably his biggest challenge since arriving on Merseyside six months ago.
Scoring a vital away goal as the Reds held Dortmund to a 1-1 draw at the Westfalenstadion, however, Klopp’s decision was vindicated.
After a show of faith from his manager, the 20-year-old Origi justified his selection, and gave much food for thought for the future.
Borussia Dortmund 1-1 Liverpool
As Liverpool and Dortmund were drawn out of UEFA’s hat by former FC Basel striker Alexander Frei back in February, all eyes turned to one man: Klopp.
The 48-year-old left Dortmund last summer after seven successful years, joining Liverpool months later on the dismissal of Brendan Rodgers, and in six months Klopp has fostered a bond with the Merseyside faithful that bears a striking resemblance with his place in the Yellow Wall.
While Klopp moved to play down the significance of his return to the Westfalenstadion—”it’s a football game“—as You’ll Never Walk Alone rang out around Dortmund’s stadium before kickoff, it was clear these are two clubs unavoidably and intrinsically linked.
On the field, however, Liverpool and Dortmund find themselves poles apart: the Reds are something of a sleeping giant, being prodded awake by an enthusiastic Klopp, while Thomas Tuchel is well on his way to restoring BVB as a European force.
But as Klopp pitted his 4-3-3 against Tuchel’s 4-2-3-1 on Thursday night, the gulf decreased.
With Roberto Firmino only deemed fit enough to start on the bench, after recovering from a hamstring injury, this left Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho to both press high and stretch play by drifting out to the flanks, as Liverpool looked to beat Dortmund at their own game.
Key to this tactical approach was Origi, whose position off the shoulder of Dortmund’s defenders gave Liverpool impetus.
After a muted campaign on loan with Lille in 2014/15, resulting in the striker being named in Ligue 1’s worst XI of the season by French publication L’Equipe, Origi arrived at Liverpool to little fanfare.
Joining Danny Ings and controversial big-money signing Christian Benteke in Rodgers’ ranks, Origi’s presence became synonymous with the notion of a weak attacking force.
Through the first months of the season, supporters pined for the return of Sturridge: Liverpool’s only proven, top-level goalscorer, and their most injury-prone talent.
But as the current campaign reaches its climax, Origi now finds himself in a favourable position.
With Sturridge still struggling for form and fitness, and with Klopp regularly substituting the 26-year-old before the full-time whistle, there is a clear unrest in the German’s attacking ranks.
The decision to field Origi at the Westfalenstadion was, according to his manager, purely tactical, with Klopp explaining to reporters that “Divock was made for this game with the space he can make and how he can hold the ball.”
There certainly is a distinction between Origi and Sturridge, which was magnified in the Belgian’s 84 minutes on the field on Thursday night.
Taking advantage of his knowledge of Tuchel’s squad, Klopp looked to Origi to penetrate the space between the Dortmund defence, most notably right-back Lukasz Piszczek and makeshift centre-back Sven Bender.
Holding Piszczek at arm’s length as he latched onto a Milner knock-on, Origi provided an encapsulation of his talents, with pace, power and precision allowing him to fire beyond Roman Weidenfeller to put Liverpool 1-0 up and grab a crucial away goal.
Conversely, when Sturridge replaced Origi late into the second half, Dortmund’s defensive dynamic switched: they became more compact, and tougher to break down, despite some bright moves by the No. 15.
In short, the game was made for Origi, and Klopp had made the right call at the right moment.
Liverpool’s Next No. 9?
With both Sturridge and Benteke injured for his first outing as Liverpool manager back in October, Klopp turned to Origi, handing the striker his first Premier League start against Spurs at White Hart Lane.
Though the clash ended at 0-0, Origi’s off-ball work rate and willingness to run the channels gave Klopp cause for optimism, as he told reporters after the game.
“I wanted to take him to Dortmund but Liverpool bought him. He is a very good player. He is young, very fast, a good technician,” he said.
“At this moment, he’s not full of experience in the game because he hasn’t played so often, but we will have fun with this player, for sure.”
That closing statement highlighted Origi as something of a pet project for the new Liverpool manager, and Klopp quickly devised a routine to aid his development, and over the past six months Origi has bulked up significantly.
This aided Liverpool in Dortmund, with Origi not only able to peel away from Tuchel’s defence with pace, but also hold the ball up and bring the likes of Coutinho and Lallana into the game with his strength.
As Klopp continues to balance Sturridge’s predatory instinct and wavering fitness, and as Benteke remains on the periphery at Liverpool, Origi provides the Reds with a welcome alternative.
Though—as he was quick to point out after the game—it is still very early in his development, Origi is showcasing the qualities of a complete centre-forward; and to make a lazy comparison, one of Europe’s very best in that mould, Robert Lewandowski, enjoyed considerable success after being brought to Dortmund by Klopp.
Unlike both Sturridge and Lewandowski, however, Origi is yet to master the art of finishing, with just six goals in 28 appearances so far this season—three of which came in one game.
But after justifying his selection with an invaluable goal in Liverpool’s 1-1 draw away to Dortmund on Thursday night, Origi once again highlighted his potential as a top, top striker.