Wednesday, 7 October 2015

What Liverpool should and should not expect from Jürgen Klopp

When Jürgen Klopp arrived at Borussia Dortmund in 2008 the club were not exactly in a bad place emotionally. Despite a 13th place finish they had reached the German Cup Final the season before (which they lost to Bayern Munich) and had qualified for the UEFA Cup.

However, Borussia were still caught in the wake if the financial calamity, in 2005, which nearly finished them off for good.  The preceding coach Thomas Doll had introduced a particularly forgettable brand of football which was due, in part, to a lack of resources from an exhausted club.

In his first season Klopp steered BVB to sixth place, narrowly missing out on a European spot on the last day and then 5th in his second. In 2011 and 2012, he led the team to two successive Bundesliga titles. Only Dortmund and Hamburg have managed back to back titles, apart from Bayern, since the early 80s.

Under Klopp's leadership young players such as Mario Götze, Nuri Sahin, Sven Bender and of course Robert Lewandowski blossomed. Also, the central defensive partnership of Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels were imperious. As glorious as that team was to watch going forward they were hard as nails at the back.

Highlights of that period were the wins against Bayern including the 5-2 win in the 2012 German Cup Final in which Shinji Kagawa (watched by Sir Alex Ferguson in the stadium) and Lewandowski destroyed the Bavarians. Dortmund finished the next two season in second behind Bayern and of course had a great run to the Champions League Final in 2013 which included that extraordinary victory over Real Madrid.

Klopp's final season was mostly terrible. Lewandowski left and was not really replaced. His absence underlined how direct they'd become. It wasn't a disaster however, and his players rallied to a 7th placed finish and a German Cup Final which they lost to Wolfsburg.

Klopp brought a new dynamism to the dressing room and motivated his players to run through walls for him. Over time he developed the gegenpressing* style of which, while not unique, was a text book example. Klopp also finessed a style of play of rapid transition of all the outfield players which allowed them to very quickly turn defence into attack and back to defence. This plus a group of exceptionally talented players accounts for his success.

It is, however, worth pointing out that Bayern were in transition during those championship years. In fact it would not be unfair to say that most teams that finish a season ahead of Bayern do so when they are going through a lull. In my opinion the 2011-2013 Borussia Dortmund would probably have finished second to the current Bayern team as they did to Jupp Heynkes' 2013 treble winners. But the point is moot and Klopp's Dortmund were the best team and the most fun to watch during this time. Moreover in the subsequent two seasons, Borussia were worthy runners up and superb in the Champions League.

Also, Klopp was only one half of BVB’s recent success. Sporting director, Michael Zorc was the other. In fact even that is probably a simplification. It was Zorc who recruited players such as Kagawa and Lewandowski and it is he who determines the overall direction of the club. Klopp was largely concerned with the team. If Klopp is to succeed at Liverpool, it is vital that they have a good transfer policy and people further up the chain with good recruitment skills and the vision to lead the club. Klopp is not another Bill Shankly.

He's also got temper and got himself into bother with the German FA and UEFA for losing his shit with fourth officials. He's happy to take shots at opposition coaches. During Bayern Munich's treble winning season Klopp likened them to a knock off Chinese technology company. He is unlikely to shy away from mind games, once he gets more confident with his English. He won't take any crap from Mourinho, assuming by then the Chelsea boss hasn't moved on.

But perhaps as important as any other reason for bringing him to the club, Klopp will just get Liverpool FC. He'll understand the club's culture and probably find commonality between the Scouse and Ruhrpott mentality. He'll hear the Anfield Kop sing You'll Never Walk Alone before each match just as he heard the Südtribüne at the Westfalenstadion who sing the same song and no doubt feel at home.

The question as to whether or not he'll win the Premier League is more problematic. The fact is that at Dortmund he only had one or at a push, two clubs to get passed in order to claim the title. In England he'll have three or maybe four. Personally I think that success would be consistent Champions League qualification and a knock out trophy. Perhaps even a European Trophy.

If he accomplishes this then he should take his place among the great Liverpool managers. Moreover, he'll probably end up as the England manager. And wouldn't we all enjoy that?

*it's a bit like closing down.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Bundesliga doesn't have or need a 'Klassiker'

Bayern Munich's 5-1 victory over Borussia Dortmund on 4th October underlines not just the Bavarian's supremacy but the lack of wisdom in the promotion of "Der Klassiker".

This is the second time that Bayern have beaten their perceived championship rivals by 5-1 at home this season. However, the difference between the Dortmund win and that against Wolfsburg were like chalk and cheese.

Wolfsburg played well in the first half and were undone in a crazy 9 minutes of football at the start of the second from five goal Robert Lewandowski. Borussia in contrast were dreadful. Thomas Tuchel, in relegating, Ginter in favour of Lukasz Piszczek and recalling Bender as a makeshift centre half may have over thought his tactics. Dortmund fell foul of two long balls that you would expect a team of their calibre to defend and the goalkeeper had a 'mare.

That being said Bayern were and are excellent. Douglas Costa is a sensation down the flanks, Thiago is constantly reassuring, Müller is a force of nature and the team is masterminded by a coach who, unlike his less experienced opposite number usually gets it right for the big games. In my opinion, Bayern would have won the game even if Dortmund had been at their best.

It is difficult therefore not to arrive at the conclusion that Bayern are very much a class above the rest of the league. However, the tendency to overhype this particular fixture as a German classico, runs the risk of cheapening the Bundesliga as a whole by focussing too much attention on a single fixture when German football has so much more to offer.

A couple of hours before the Bayern v Dortmund game,  FC Köln provided a tactical masterclass in counterattacking football by beating Schalke away from home 3-0. It was a demonstration of the cleverness of their coach Peter Stöger and the tactical discipline of their players. Contrast this performance to a similar botched attempt by Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich Albion against Crystal Palace the day before in the much vaunted Premier League.

The Bundesliga is brimming with talented youngsters such as Max Meyer, Leroy Sane, Julian Draxler, Robin Knoche, Maxi Arnold, Julian Brandt, Julian Weigl and countless others. In spite of Bayern's dominance of the league, only five in the starting XI of Germany's World Cup winners were brought through the ranks by the Bavarians. Schalke, Werder Bremen, Bayer Leverkusen and even Kaiserslautern provided the starting point for players in that team and although Mats Hummels was a youngster at Bayern, he made his name at Dortmund.

Most weeks the league throws up exciting, high scoring matches and continues to engage its fans as the high attendances will testify. While it does not make as much money as the English Premier League it is by no means a cash poor league and is very much in rude health. Which makes this attempt to manufacture a traditional classico along the lines of the Real Madrid v Barcelona game or the Derby d'Italia is unnecessary.

Down the years, Bayern have enjoyed a healthy rivalry with a number of different clubs beside Dortmund. Borussia Mönchengladbach, Stuttgart, Werder Bremen and Hamburg among others have challenged Bayern throughout the history of the Bundesliga. However, only Bayern have remained at the top since their emergence as a force in the 1970s. Consequently there has not been a consistent challenger from which a traditional rivalry and in turn a classico did develop.

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The Bayern v Dotmund 'Der Klassiker' seems to be a recent construct based in the fact that for two seasons at the start of the decade, Borussia were a match for Bayern. The term seems only to be embraced by the small but growing international German football media and the Bundesliga itself. There is no perceived history or tradition to the fixture and not much evidence of its use in the wider German football lexicon. 

And while this false narrative may help foreign media provide a focus for the Bundesliga in terms of publicising and promoting the league, there is a risk that the Bundesliga could be cheapened by focussing too much on just Bayern and Dortmund. It could also backfire as it becomes clear that most of the time the same team (Bayern) is likely to keep winning. Potential new fans could be put off by its one sidedness and be left with the impression that Bayern are the only decent team in Germany, rather than the reality which is that there are plenty of good teams in Germany of which Bayern is the best.

The Bundesliga is a strong, progressive league with a plethora of great clubs with histories both long and short. It is also the home of the World Champions. It should concentrate on these qualities and does not need to manufacture rivalries to be successful.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Selected Weekend TV Preview 2 - 4 October

(All times UK)

Friday 2 October

Wolfsburg Women v SC Freiburg Women, Women's Bundesliga, 17:00, British Eurosport / British Eurosport HD

Eurosport have shown plenty of Champions league and international women's football but to my knowledge have not shown any Frauen Bundesliga. This is probably one of the strongest leagues in Europe and we can only hope that it finds an audience here in the UK. The season is only three weeks old and Wolfsburg are looking to bounce back after their narrow defeat to league leaders and Champions Bayern Munich. Freiburg got their first three points in the last matchday with a 6-1 win against Cologne.

Rotherham United v Burnley, Championship, 19:45, Sky Sports 5

Rotherham's form had improved, winning their last two games, before the departure of manager and convicted criminal Steve Evans. Conversely, Burnley had dropped points in their last two games and are down to seventh.

Saturday 3 October

Crystal Palace v West Brom, Premier League, 12:45, BT Sport 1

Just the one entry for Saturday on account of the sheer volume of tasty fixtures on Sunday. The Pulis Derby becomes the focus of attention. Truly this is a fixtures that only the fans could love. Albion's hilarious capitulation to Everton last Monday will focus the mind of Tony Pulis to the task of undoing his former club just as he did last season. But will it be a case of fool me once... for Alan Pardew and his men?

Sunday 4 October

Everton v Liverpool, Premier League, 13:30, Sky Sports 1

Both clubs are struggling for relevance in this new football age. Liverpool are still having trouble reconciling the fact that they are, for now at least, a second tier Premier league club. Everton seem a little more comfortable in their skin but you sense that there is an understandable frustration that the game has passed them by, at least until they extent or move to new stadiums. However, the Merseyside Derby remains a must watch fixture even for cynical eurosnobs such as the author.

Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga, 16:30, BT Sport Europe

Top of the table clash that had it be on three weeks ago might have more potential for an upset (an upset being a Dortmund win). However, BVB have dropped points at Hoffenheim and inexplicably against Darmstadtat the   Westfelen last Sunday. Bayern in the meantime and improved and Robert Lewandowski will line up against his old club in terrifying  form having scored 10 (ten) goals in the last 3 (three) games.

Chelsea Ladies v Sunderland AFC Ladies , FA Women's Super League, 18:00, BT Sport 1

The climax of the WSL is upon us. With one matchday left it's all on Chelsea not to blow the title as they did last year. Beat a Sunderland team that have not won in their last four or risk being overtaken by Manchester City. In all likelihood BT will cut to the City v Notts County game if and when they take the lead. Could be a nail biter for Chelsea fans.

PSG v Marseille, Ligue 1, 20:00, BT Sport 2

This heavyweight clash is counterbalanced by the atrocious form of the away side. Their latest embarassement was a 2-1 home revese to Angers. Still there is something wrong with the world when a PSG v OM match is not worth observing even if it is on your tablet while concentrating on the Madrid derby on the other side.