Borussia Dortmund are not going anywhere. Jürgen Klopp’s team, who have a well-earned reputation for being Europe’s most exciting, might just be the most resilient, too.
Not in the sense of grinding out wins on the pitch, but in terms of Dortmund’s remarkable consistency at the top level despite the constant loss of players. They have had to cope with the departures of Nuri Sahin, Shinji Kagawa and Mario Götze in three consecutive summers but have not let it affect their quality or their style. Last season they lost their German title but they did reach the Champions League final – which they lost in the final minute to Bayern Munich.
Klopp has had to pay a price for running Bayern so close and wounding their pride, as they activated Götze’s release clause in the summer, and are close to a deal to sign Robert Lewandowski for free at the end of this season. But Klopp’s focus is relentlessly optimistic. This summer Dortmund signed Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Sokratis Papastathopoulos (see panel, right), and now they are just one point behind Bayern in the Bundesliga. They also beat their closest rivals 4-2 to take the German Super Cup in August.
“It is not important to think like this,” Klopp said yesterday about losing Götze. “Not important to think about the players you lose, it is important to think about the teams you have. Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang, Sokratis, [Jonas] Hofmann, [Erik] Durm, [Marvin] Ducksch, in the future you will know them, they are part of the new team. We have to get better every day. [Tonight] will have to be one of our best games ever.”
As good a player as Götze is, Mkhitaryan has replaced him well as an intelligent No 10, while Aubameyang and Marco Reus provide more than enough pace and incision on the flanks. Dortmund are the Bundesliga’s top scorers, with 22 goals in nine games. Reus and Aubameyang have eight and six respectively in all competitions. Lewandowski, as sharp as ever, has nine in 12. The one frustration was their 2-1 defeat at Napoli, in which Klopp was so angry with the fourth official he is banned from the touchline tonight.
At the base of their midfield Dortmund have Sahin back, the man who left for Real Madrid in 2011 but is now fully re-integrated in their system. “It didn’t take me that long,” Sahin said yesterday, at the ground of the team he nearly joined on loan instead of Liverpool last summer. “I knew it would come, I had the support of the team and the coach and I know the style of the game.”
Klopp knows how far his team have come, speaking about how there were at least four times as many people outside his team’s London hotel as there were before this fixture in November 2011. “We know people have respect for us now.” He has always been full of admiration for Arsène Wenger, though, as he made clear yesterday.
“I like Wenger football, when I watch as a supporter, this is the most beautiful style of football you can watch. Two or three months ago, everybody wanted Arsène to spend £80m, but he didn’t find the right player, then he took Mathieu Flamini for zero – good idea – and then Mesut [Özil] for some money.
“This team missed one player, maybe that could be Özil. He is technically perfect, fast, with a drive to goal and very intelligent. It was a great idea from Arsenal, not so great from the team who let him go. One year ago, no one could imagine they could play brilliant football without [Santi] Cazorla.”
Klopp is so impressed by Arsenal that even he is not banking on a win tonight. “It is a ‘joker game’, if you take some points it will be great, we have nothing else to do so we will try and take all of them.”
Rebuilding Dortmund: Klopp’s recruits
With Mario Götze gone, Dortmund needed a new No 10 and signed Mkhitaryan, who LIverpool also wanted, from Shakhtar Donetsk. ‘Mikhi’ scored two lovely goals in a recent 2-1 win in Frankfurt.
Bought from St-Etienne, Aubameyang is a winger with pace, perfectly suited to Dortmund’s counter-attacking style. He has six league goals so far and scored a hat-trick on his Bundesliga debut against Augsburg.
The Greece international centre-back, another Liverpool target, joined from Werder Bremen for £8m.