Rarely has one man been the focus of such attention in the Europa League.
But Juergen Klopp’s return to Borussia Dortmund as Liverpool manager for the first leg of the quarterfinals was always going to be an emotional affair with such a strong bond between him and his former club after seven largely successful years.
Klopp oversaw steady progression after taking over Dortmund in 2008, and led the young side to back-to-back Bundesliga titles by 2012, when the club claimed its first double by humbling Bayern Munich in the German Cup final. A Champions League final appearance in 2013 was as good as it got after that.
The end, when it came in 2015, was mourned by Dortmund fans who remembered only the good times, as well as Klopp’s infectious good humor and enthusiasm.
“Danke Kloppo” (Thank you Kloppo) was trending on Twitter at the time.
Klopp is already extremely popular among Liverpool fans and players for much the same reasons, with his passion for the game and his new club clear to all from his behavior on the touchline and in news conferences.
Klopp quickly put his stamp on Liverpool through the team’s high-energy approach and fierce pressing game. Results have generally been inconsistent but are starting to improve, like they did at Dortmund, and Anfield has become something of a fortress. Fans appear happy to give him time to build his own team.
It’s widely felt that Liverpool will be a force under Klopp, especially once he gets his own players in, and that the pair are a perfect fit - just like it was at Dortmund.
Here are some things to know about Thursday’s matches:
Of course Liverpool’s trip to Germany isn’t just about Klopp - even if German broadcaster Sport1 was reportedly planning a “Kloppo Cam” focused only on the Liverpool manager during the game.
For Dortmund, the Europa League represents arguably a better chance of silverware than the Bundesliga, where it trails Bayern by five points despite producing the best-ever campaign by a second-place team.
Dortmund also has a German Cup semifinal to come against Hertha Berlin, but progression in Europe is a priority.
Ilkay Gundogan, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Mats Hummels took part in Tuesday’s training and look set to return, leaving Neven Subotic the only player injured.
Liverpool playmaker Roberto Firmino has been sidelined with a hamstring injury for the past three weeks, but traveled with the squad to Germany and could be in line for a return.