How Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund retained the title – and a lesson from the past

Liverpool are Premier League champions. Keep reminding of yourself of the truth of that, if matters take an unexpected downward turn early on in 2020/21.

The Reds had to fight tremendously hard to become the top club of the country again, finally. It took 30 years for it to happen, so there’s no point assuming it’ll just happen again, or that it must, even if we’re extremely good.

What happened since 1990 taught Reds one truth; what happened in 18/19 should have taught us another.

Jurgen Klopp‘s team needed to be damn-near perfect just to be in title contention, never mind to win it—but thanks to his experiences at Borussia Dortmund, he didn’t panic, despair or dramatically change course when the Reds fell short.

Also thanks to his time in the Bundesliga, the boss knows what it takes to retain the title, and why it can be even harder to do so than originally becoming champions.

“In football, the result is an impostor. You can do things really, really well but not win. There’s something greater than the result, more lasting – a legacy.”

—Xavi Hernandez, Barcelona and Spain, 2011

“You come at the king, you best not miss.”

—Omar Little, The Wire

Bundesliga champions

30.04.2011, Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, GER, 1.FBL, Borussia Dortmund vs 1. FC Nuernberg, im Bild die Dortmunder Mannschaft feiert Dortmunds Trainer Jurgen / Juergen Klopp (GER) und wirft ihn hoch, er ist na? von einer Bierdusche, EXPA Pictures (C) 2011, PhotoCredit: EXPA/ nph/ Scholz ****** out of GER / SWE / CRO / BEL ******

You might remember the details from when we hired him.

Dortmund had waited eight years since their last title, nowhere near as long as the Reds, but long enough considering they had fallen from first to 13th in little more than half a decade.

That first title-winning campaign, BVB lost their opening match. The recovery was swift, with 14 wins out of the next 15, and only a further four defeats came throughout the rest of the season.

Jurgen the hero, Jurgen the great.

03.12.2011, BorussiaPark, Mönchengladbach, GER, 1.FBL, Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Borussia Dortmund, im BildJürgen Klopp (Trainer Dortmund) und Mario Götze (Dortmund #11) // during the 1.FBL, Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Borussia Dortmund on 2011/12/03, BorussiaPark, Mönchengladbach, Germany. EXPA Pictures © 2011, PhotoCredit: EXPA/ nph/ Mueller..***** ATTENTION - OUT OF GER, CRO *****

With that trophy, the following season presented it’s own new set of challenges: Dortmund were the team to beat, Dortmund had new expectations to live up to.

2011/12 was, ultimately, even better: BVB were domestic double winners, top of the table and DFB-Pokal champions, the latter for the first time in 23 years.

But it didn’t start that way, as Liverpool fans would do well to bear in mind.

It started, in fact, with just two wins from the opening six league matches, and none of those were against Bayern Munich.


Focus and comeback

04.08.2010, Signal Iduna Park, Dortmund, GER, Freundschaftsspiel, Borrussia Dortmund vs Manchester City, im Bild: Dortmunds Trainer Jürgen / Juergen Klopp (GER) mit Daumen hoch, gibt Anweisungen, EXPA Pictures © 2010, PhotoCredit: EXPA/ nph/ Scholz+++++ ATTENTION - OUT OF GER +++++

It’s an inescapable fact of humanity: when you’re at the top, everybody else aims for you.

Run a huge, successful company? Someone who wants that right for themselves will inevitably try to oust you.

Have a chance of winning an election to lead a country? Someone will undoubtedly try to smear you, belittle you, point out your flaws to beat you.

And, in the sporting arena, if your name has been inscribed on silverware most recently, everyone wants to beat you.

Liverpool are used to opponents raising their game against them. All serial winners have to suffer the same hardship…and rise above it.

As Dortmund did, in 2011/12.

13.08.2011, Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena, Sinsheim, GER, 1.FBL, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim vs BvB Borussia Dortmund, Juergen KLOPP, Trainer Borussia Dortmund, Portrait mit Kappe..// during the match from GER, 1.FBL,TSG 1899 Hoffenheim vs BvB Borussia Dortmund on 2011/08/13, Wirsol Rhein-Neckar-Arena, Sinsheim, Germany..EXPA Pictures © 2011, PhotoCredit: EXPA/ nph/ A.Huber ****** out of GER / CRO / BEL ******

An average of one point per game after 17 per cent of the season has been played doesn’t seem like a recipe for success, but when the coaching staff are as good as Klopp and his team, a plan and a route back to the top is always on hand.

Total number of matches lost in the final 28 games of the season? Zero.

Result against last year’s runner-up? Win. Results against biggest rival Bayern? Win, win. In the fierce Revierderby with Schalke? Win, win.

Relentless mindset, relentless belief, relentless results. We’ve seen it for the last two years at Anfield, and even a poor run should now not be enough to shake the foundations which have been laid.


Liverpool, 2020

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, July 22, 2020: Liverpool’s manager Jürgen Klopp (L) and Adam Lallana (R) lift the Premier League trophy during the presentation as the Reds are crowned Champions after the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. Also; Neco Williams, Mohamed Salah. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

So, the Reds.

We’re really good, remember that if Leeds beat us. Or Chelsea, or Arsenal, or all of them.

Everyone will be up for it at Anfield, it’s a great stadium. Everyone wants to beat the champions, to prove we’re beatable and remind themselves of what they’re capable of.

Everyone always raises it for the Reds: big rivals, out-of-form players, average ‘keepers having a worldie. It happens.

So if all those aspects combine—plus, you know, no pre-season, no fans, no big investment—to give the Reds a tough start to the campaign, it’s worth not panicking. It’s worth not immediately demanding heads roll, from whichever tier of the club hierarchy you tend to focus on.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, June 24, 2020: Liverpool supporters' banners on the Spion Kop before the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In isolation, a single result – or even a few of them – simply do not matter. What last longest, what has the biggest impact, is the overarching quality, approach and mentality the team has.

Klopp’s title seasons showed that, particularly the second. But so too did his last campaign with BVB, where they went from the relegation zone after an absurd first half-season, to the fringes of Europe when they reverted to type after Christmas.

We want another title. That’s why we exist. But it’s never easy, never supposed to be. In the modern Premier League era, Liverpool need to be nearly perfect to win.

And we’re capable of that near-perfection, we’ve proved it for two years—whether the start of 2020/21 suggests so or otherwise.

We’re Liverpool, we’re champions, we were recently champions of everything. We’ll second-leg-against-Barcelona the entire bloody league to retain the title, if that’s what it ultimately takes.