Liverpool: Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp revealed he had invoked the spirit of the club’s famous Champions League fightback in Istanbul to inspire his team to Europa League victory over Borussia Dortmund.
Two-nil down at half-time in Thursday’s quarter-final second leg, and 3-1 behind on aggregate, Klopp reminded his players of the memorable night in May 2005 when former captain Steven Gerrard inspired his team-mates to come back from 3-0 down and overcome AC Milan in a penalty shoot-out in the final.
Divock Origi immediately reduced the arrears and although Marco Reus then struck back for Dortmund, goals from Philippe Coutinho and Mamadou Sakho teed up a storming Anfield finale that saw Dejan Lovren head home a stoppage-time winner to complete an extraordinary 5-4 aggregate win.
“It was a good atmosphere in half-time, honestly, because I was satisfied with the game; not with the goals, but with the game in general,” Klopp said after the victory over his former club.
“I told the lads I was not there, but a few Liverpool players who are a little bit older and work as experts for television, they were 3-0 down at half-time and won a Champions League final.
“Even when it’s not really likely, it’s for sure possible and we should try it. When we scored, everybody could see it — something happened in the stadium. You could hear it, you could feel it and you could smell it.”
Dortmund’s third goal on the night, brilliantly set up by Mats Hummels and scored by Reus in the 57th minute, momentarily looked to have taken the wind out of Liverpool’s sails, but Klopp said that his side’s response revealed their depth of character.
“That’s the moment in football and in life where you have to show character,” said the German, who succeeded Brendan Rodgers last October.
“That’s what the lads did. That was pretty cool to watch. Of course to come back in a game like this against this highest quality opponent and win, you need a little bit of luck.
“But I think everybody who saw the game has to say it’s deserved.”
– ‘No explanation’ –
Liverpool will learn their last-four opponents in Friday’s draw and while Klopp warned that there was still a long way to go in the competition, which his club have previously won three times, he said that his side had established a benchmark for future performances.
“We will 100 percent get a real strong opponent in the semi-final. And we have to be there again, everybody,” he said.
“But for tonight (Thursday), it was brilliant, outstanding, wonderful, emotional. Everything. I will not forget it because it’s special. Now we have to carry on and do things like this more often.”
Thomas Tuchel, who succeeded Klopp at Dortmund, was still struggling to make sense of what had happened in his post-match press conference.
“If you expect an explanation, I probably have to disappoint you because an explanation would mean that things are logical or tactical or at least in moments you see where a game goes to the other side,” he said.
“None of this happened. We had a great reaction on the first goal of Liverpool and we scored a third one.
“With the equaliser it was an atmosphere where everybody, except our supporters, believed it was meant to be.”
With Dortmund’s Bundesliga hopes fading after they fell seven points behind Bayern Munich, Tuchel urged his players to clear their heads in time for their German Cup semi-final against Hertha Berlin on April 20.
“We have to turn disappointment into energy and grit in our approach,” said the 42-year-old, who had seen his team go 2-0 up inside nine minutes through Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
“In Berlin the target is to reach the final, so we shouldn’t be too afraid of where we are now. Our task is to deal with the disappointment as quickly as possible.”