After the chance to catch up with old colleagues and friends, Jurgen Klopp insists it will be all business when his Liverpool side take on his former club Borussia Dortmund at the electric Westfalenstadion he called home for seven years. Just 10 months on from departing the club he led to two Bundesliga titles, one German Cup and to the brink of a Champions League title, Klopp has been granted a return in the Europa League quarterfinals.
For a coach who had such an intense relationship with the club’s famed yellow and black wall of supporters, it is sure to be an emotional occasion. Klopp, though, insists that when the first leg kicks off on Thursday his thoughts will solely be on attempting to guide his new team through the competition’s final four.
“We were lucky to get here early and that gave me 20 minutes to catch up with some old friends,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “There are a lot of people I know here and It would have been a bit daft not to get that chance. But tomorrow is different. Tomorrow’s the game, well come here focused on that and make our way straight to the dressing room. Tomorrow is about football.
“It’s sport. We’ve always played against our best friends and we’ve always wanted to beat them. It’s absolutely no problem. I don’t think about my situation for one second. I prepare my team—that’s why I am here. It’s a big team and my team are involved, that’s good. If Dortmund score I won’t celebrate for sure!”
Liverpool come into the two-legged series having already accounted for one German team in the competition, in Augsburg, before they ousted rivals Manchester United in the Round of 16. With Liverpool’s hopes of a top-four finish all but extinguished, the Europa League now presents their last realistic avenue to the Champions League next season. But they must now take on not only Klopp’s former club but the team that are favorites to lift this season’s Europa League title.
Having suffered a disappointing final season under Klopp, Borussia Dortmund have been rejuvenated under the charge of Thomas Tuchel. The 42-year-old, who also replaced Klopp at Mainz, has managed to force a real Bundesliga title race with the previously dominant Bayern Munich, with his club sitting just five points off top spot.
And in the Europa League, they have already scored two impressive and comprehensive knockout victories over Porto and Tottenham. The quarterfinal poses its own unique challenges, however Tuchel, while playing tribute to Klopp’s work, does not expect any favors on Thursday.
“The team's development under Jürgen has helped to get us to where we are now. It was not easy to succeed Jürgen in a role once again, but we made the decision to do so with great anticipation and have regarded it as our task to continue to develop the team and to raise them to an even higher level.
“For me it is not the first time that I've come up against him. I'm getting used to it. Anything other than a warm welcome would be a surprise. He has earned that. I am sure that nobody has forgotten this time and him. It's important to remember it too. But as soon as the referee blows his whistle, he will only have one aim: winning the match.”
Kickoff time: 3:05 p.m. EDT
TV channel: Fox Sports 1