Liverpool complete epic comeback to dump Dortmund from Europa League
LIVERPOOL, England -- Three points from a raucous, epic night at Anfield as Liverpool come back to eliminate Borussia Dortmund from the Europa League ...
1. Liverpool complete famous comeback
And so Jurgen Klopp somehow won the Jurgen Klopp derby. Astonishingly, Liverpool conjured victory from the jaws of defeat with a display of spirit to eliminate the Europa League favourites, condemning Borussia Dortmund to a first defeat of 2016 and giving Klopp a memorable, magnificent victory over his former club.
The game had entered injury time on a knife edge when Dejan Lovren, the man whose penalty miss had resulted in their elimination from this competition last season, made another decisive impact, heading in James Milner's cross. Liverpool, who had been 2-0 and 3-1 down on the night, were 4-3 winners. The hosts scored three goals in the last 25 minutes, four in the second half. It was evidence of a never-say-die attitude, illustrating the belief with which Klopp has imbued not just his players but the Anfield crowd.
Divock Origi was first to reduce the deficit. Then, after Marco Reus scored, Philippe Coutinho exchanged passes with Milner and found the bottom corner of Roman Weidenfeller's net. Next Mamadou Sakho stooped to head in Coutinho's corner and finally, up stepped Lovren. Liverpool had famously scored three second-half goals in Istanbul 11 years ago in one credibility-defying comeback. This time they got four. They may yet win the Europa League. They may also yet play in next season's Champions League.
Meanwhile, Dortmund must wonder how they lost. They began with barnstorming brilliance in what was Liverpool's 360th European game, spread over more than half a century. Dortmund became the first visitors to score twice in the opening 10 minutes at Anfield, and at that stage it seemed that they would also become the first German side to taste victory on this turf.
The build-up featured an extended version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" just as it did before the Manchester United game; sometimes the three-minute rendition is just not long enough. And after the final whistle, Anfield echoed to the same sound.
2. Dortmund's deadly attackers strike quickly
Liverpool had kept Dortmund's famed front three quiet seven days earlier but this Thursday night, there would be no repeat. Within nine minutes, two of them were on the scoresheet and within an hour, all three were, taking their combined tally for the season to 78 goals. The exploits of their Barcelona counterparts can make that sound mundane but it is still a remarkable feat by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Reus. They played with devastating dynamism, and they did it with one star who could have been lining up in red.
Mkhitaryan belongs on a long list of players Liverpool failed to sign during the fruitless search for a marquee signing in the summer of 2013. Almost three years later, they were given added reasons to regret the Armenian's decision to join Dortmund. He supplied the finish after Simon Mignolet reacted acrobatically to save Aubameyang's volley, one No. 10 concluding a move that began when the other, Coutinho, lost the ball in uncharacteristically wasteful fashion.
That was in the fourth minute, already Aubameyang's second shot. He scored with his third, rifling an effort in at the near post after Reus dispossessed Roberto Firmino and snaked his way through the midfield. The German then emulated his fellow forwards with an astute finish from Mats Hummels' defence-splitting pass.
Beyond that, the surprise was that they did not score more. Every foray forward came laced with danger until Liverpool found attack the best form of defence.
3. Defenders end up on top in mixed night
Thursday's dramatic win amounted to redemption for Liverpool's centre-backs. Lovren and Sakho had been the warriors of the Westfalenstadion but were exposed at Anfield, floundering before each exerted an impact in the opposing penalty box.
Klopp set the tone for an action-packed evening even if his boldness initially seemed to backfire. Liverpool's positivity and excitement made it easy for Dortmund to counter-attack with such panache and pace.
Their manager's ambitious instincts kicked in when selecting his side. Rather than replacing Jordan Henderson (whose season ended in the first leg) with Joe Allen, he brought in the more attack-minded Firmino. Rather than having three central midfielders as he did to great effect last week, he had a mere two.
Firmino lost the ball for Dortmund's second goal and spurned a handful of chances, but he is a Klopp favourite and Allen is not. He has only started 12 of 42 games under the German, of which only one, the Capital One Cup semi-final at Stoke, could be considered a major game. While the manager makes a habit of praising the Welshman, actions speak louder than words and team selections suggest he regards Allen as a fringe figure. Yet as much as anything else, Liverpool could have benefited from an extra body in front of their enigmatic defence.
Playing a more progressive game places a greater emphasis on the specialist stoppers. Sakho and Lovren struggled as Dortmund profited in particular in the inside-right channel where, four days after a display Klopp ranked as his best for Liverpool, Alberto Moreno's defensive deficiencies were apparent. Sakho then played Reus onside for his goal before playing his part in the fightback.
While Klopp could be rightly criticised for his midfield choices, he can argue he was correct to bench his most potent finisher, Daniel Sturridge. Origi led the line with great verve as he did at Dortmund last week, showing why he is Liverpool's form forward by scoring his fourth goal in three games. It merely tapped the panic bells in the Dortmund defence. When Sturridge and Allen entered, Liverpool properly embarked on their fantastic fight-back.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.