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Jurgen Klopp in unfamiliar position ahead of reunion with Bayern Munich

The Liverpool manager has made it to the elite of football management by standing for what Bayern aren’t.

Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool's training ground ahead of the last-16 first-leg tie with Bayern Munich.
Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool's training ground ahead of the last-16 first-leg tie with Bayern Munich.
Image: Nick Potts

“WITHOUT THEM PROBABLY my career would not be the same”, said Jurgen Klopp of his former players Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski ahead of their reunion in Bayern Munich colours at Anfield tonight [KO 8pm, RTÉ Two].

That sentiment can be extended to their present employer.

Without Bayern Munich, there may have been no Jurgen Klopp, or at least not in the knockout rounds of the Champions League.

Klopp made his name domestically in his first job at Mainz, but the rest of Europe began to take notice when he started beating Bayern to league titles with Borussia Dortmund.

Things might have been very different: Klopp was in the running for the Bayern job in 2008 but missed out on the job to Jurgen Klinsmann. Both men have made Bayern rue the decision since.

Nonetheless, Bayern were partly the making of Klopp at Dortmund. (Bayern were also partly the making of Dortmund: in 2005, with Dortmund drowning in a financial black hole, Bayern loaned them €2 million to cover the wage bill.)

At Dortmund, he wasn’t necessarily hired to win league titles, but instead to implement on the field a return to the club’s values, recently formalised in a club charter that included commitments to buy back their stadium and to never deviate from a home strip of black and yellow stripes.

The identity Klopp connected with was of the working-class region that grafts in the shadow of the bigger, more established cities. The instrument for this was a kind of demonic running around: “When you sit in this stadium with your eyes closed, you should sense there is a passionate team on the field below” said Klopp at the time.

Borussia Dortmund - FC Bayern München 1:2 Jurgen Klopp reacts with dismay to the 2013 Champions League final, which his Dortmund side lost 2-1 to Bayern Munich. Source: DPA/PA Images

It also proved to be quite successful, and it was predicated on thriving on an underdog spirit.

The link between crowd and players melded into the kind of atmosphere into which no giant would carelessly walk. “You have no control over the other team”, said Klopp upon his unveiling at Liverpool. “If they are really good you have to bring them to your level. On your level, you can kill any team.” 

Dortmund did exactly this, until Bayern began calling in the subtle and silent terms of the 2005 loan. They slowly picked the team apart: Mario Gotze was signed just before the sides met in the 2013 Champions League final, with Klopp so distraught at the news he left work early and cancelled a social engagement that evening.

Then Robert Lewandowski took flight, with Mats Hummels following after Klopp had left.

Klopp’s frustration with Bayern was such that he snapped they were “like the Chinese – they see what other people are doing and copy it – just with more money” after losing the 2013 German Cup final to them.

He has been keen to stress that all of this in the past now, saying ahead of his first competitive meeting with Bayern since leaving Dortmund that “I was never able to be angry for a long time.”

The principles he polished at Dortmund have been evident at Liverpool – his hard running style provoked a reaction from supporters, and myriad opponents of superior quality and resources have melted at Anfield as a result.

There have also been signs of evolution, however.

Klopp has not been averse to making like Bayern and has spent lots of money – Liverpool’s summer spending was only €15 million shy of Bayern’s outlay over the last three seasons, and it has been notable that his gung-ho gegenpressing has been turned down a notch or two this season to reserve energy.

Bayern have had a difficult debut season under Niko Kovac, but they have hinted at getting back on track in recent weeks. They cut the gap at the top of the Bundesliga to two points on Friday night, although a wobbling Dortmund have a game in hand.

They have injury and suspension issues for their trip to Anfield: Jerome Boateng is out through illness, and Thomas Muller is suspended. Kingsley Coman, at the heart of Friday’s 3-2 win at Augsburg, has shaken off an ankle knock to at least make the travelling party.

Liverpool, meanwhile, have one glaring absentee: Virgil van Dijk is suspended owing to his accruing of yellow cards in the group stage, and with Dejan Lovren struggling with a hamstring issue and Joe Gomez definitely out, Joel Matip may be partnered by midfielder Fabinho in the centre of defence. There is also concern that Roberto Firmino will be unable to shake off a virus before kick-off. 

While Didi Hamann suggested on German TV recently that Lewandowski is in decline, even his slightly denuded edge may be damaging against an untested partnership.

Both clubs have spent the build-up to this tie stapling the favourites tag to each other: “Liverpool are the favourites” said Joshua Kimmich; “It’s always being said that we’re the big favourite. I think that’s very funny”, replied Klopp.

It’s understandable that being made favourite in a game against Bayern is strange to Klopp – he got here by making the most of being in their monstrous shadow.

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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