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Liverpool fans can take heart from Borussia Dortmund’s 2012 title run


It might have seemed sacrilege a few weeks ago, but somebody, somewhere, is asking the question now Is Jurgen Klopp really all he’s cracked up to be?First it was seven points. Then it was four Then it was one, and now it’s minus one. Liverpool’s lead at the top of the table has melted in recent weeks  Where was Klopp’s tactical genius as he failed to outwit Leicester and West Ham? Where was his heavy metal football, his brilliance as a motivator, as they trudged to dreary 0-0 draws in two major derbies? Season at a glance Live tables Fixtures Scores Premier League Premier League Championship League One League Two Scottish Premiership Scottish Div 1 Scottish Div 2 Scottish Div 3 Ligue 1 Serie A La Liga Bundesliga More tables More fixtures More scores The questions are grossly unfair, but they are not unfamiliar to the Liverpool manager It is an unfortunate by-product of his likeability. There will always be someone who, when the chips are down, accuses of him of being a fraud, nothing more than the class clown ‘A lot of people still think Klopp is just a motivator, a people-person and a good-mood-bear,’ wrote Der Spiegel back in 2011 ‘But if Dortmund’s young team really do win the title, it won’t be because of his qualities as an entertainer ‘Klopp’s young Dortmund team did win the title that year. They won the Double the next year and reached the Champions League final the year after that Yet Klopp has never been quite able to shake the notion that he is a better entertainer than he is a football coach Much of that has to do with a supposed lack of ruthlessness. Klopp has a famously poor record in cup finals, and as a sense of foreboding settles over Merseyside this week, many will suspect that perhaps he just doesn’t have the killer instinct, the ability to push his teams over the line The only flaw in that argument is that, in 2011 and 2012, he did push his teams over the line In both years, Dortmund established a lead at the top of the table and held onto it So why are Liverpool bottling it now? Were Klopp’s Dortmund more ruthless and hard-headed than Klopp’s Liverpool?Probably not, but much has changed since 2011 The relentless running and ferocious press of Klopp’s teams was, at that time, still something of a novelty Even as teams worked it out, it was harder for them to resist. In the Premier League almost a decade later, opponents are cleverer, and Klopp has had to be more inventive Where Dortmund could simply shock teams into submission, Liverpool must struggle with constantly changing gameplans In 2010, meanwhile, nobody had Dortmund down as serious title contenders. Klopp had guided them to two top six finishes in his first two years, and they were undoubtedly a team on the rise But the title was a mere pipe dream.The side which swept through the Bundesliga in that heady first season was freed of all expectation With an average age of 23, it was led by precocious young talents such as Nuri Sahin, Mats Hummels and Mario Gotze, desperate to show off their ability but under very little pressure ‘Bayern will win the title, chased by Schalke, Wolfsburg and Bremen,’ declared Klopp at the start of the season ‘We want to land somewhere near where we did last year, so in the top five.’As it turned out, all of those predictions proved to be duds Amid the collapse of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Bayern, Dortmund had established a 10 point lead at the top of the table by Christmas With the likes of Mainz, Freiburg and Hannover among the chasing pack, their only real contender for the title was Bayer Leverkusen  Having beaten Leverkusen in mid-January, Dortmund’s route was clear. By the time they had their wobble, their name was almost being engraved on the trophy They won only five of their last ten games, and still won the league with a seven-point margin As Bayern recovered under Jupp Heynckes, the following season was tougher. Yet even as defending champions, Dortmund were unburdened by expectation It was nearly 20 years since anyone had denied Bayern two years in a row, and Klopp had no reason to think he had to defend his title ‘Bayern are going to win the league, that is as certain as the fact that Amen will be said in church,’ said Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, even as Dortmund drew level with Bayern at the top in late October Having struggled in the first few months, Dortmund would not go top until February Compare all this to Liverpool today. With City on their heels, they were never going to run away with the title this year, but Klopp no longer has the luxury of being coy He recognised that from the moment he arrived, declaring in 2015 that Liverpool ‘could win the title in the next four years’ Even as his team slipped behind City last weekend, Klopp refused to slip back into the mentality of the underdog On Saturday, he insisted with some irritation that Liverpool remain very much in this title race He is right, but he also has no choice but to say so. After the amount of money they spent in the summer and the way Liverpool have developed during his tenure, he cannot be seen to settle for second best Liverpool fans, though, can take heart from the end of Dortmund’s second title run in 2012  Having taken top spot with 14 games to go, they too were suddenly on equal terms with their title rivals For the first time, Klopp was unable to claim the role of underdog, and mastered the situation Dortmund dropped just four points between January and May, refusing to relinquish their grip on first place It wasn’t always pretty: a crucial missed penalty in the title decider against Bayern, and a scrappy derby win over Schalke a week later saw them over the line But they got there.It was the same in 2015, in Klopp’s miserable final year at Dortmund Having been sucked into the relegation fight before Christmas, Klopp’s sheer bloody-mindedness came to the fore in the second half of the season Dortmund recovered, and hauled themselves into the Europa League.It isn’t always pretty with Klopp, but he is more than just a clown He is a genuine fighter, and whether they win the title or not, we shouldn’t expect anything but a genuine fight from Liverpool in the coming weeks

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