Liverpool will hold realistic hopes of reaching the Europa League semi-final after a 1-1 draw against Borussia Dortmund in Germany.
Reds striker Divock Origi fully justified his manager’s faith with a vital away goal on Jurgen Klopp’s homecoming.
The focus on Klopp could hardly have been greater on his first return to Signal Iduna Park after leaving in May so it was difficult for the scrutiny to increase with his decision to start with the Belgian 20-year-old in place of his number-one striker Daniel Sturridge.
But the German is not afraid of making the big calls and this one paid off as Origi scored his first goal since February and the most important in his short Liverpool career to date in this Europa League quarter-final first leg.
Dortmund centre-back Mats Hummels’ header just after half-time gave the hosts a draw which, on balance, they deserved but a composed, controlled European away performance for Liverpool has given them hope of progressing at Anfield next week against a side Klopp rates as among the top five in the world.
It was not quite master against apprentice as Thomas Tuchel has hardly taken Dortmund backwards this season but Klopp still knows a thing or two about European football and – inside knowledge or not – his tactics were spot-on.
From Origi’s persistent running up top, occupying Dortmund’s entire back line, to the work-rate in midfield and the new dogged determination instilled in the defence
While Klopp made one significant change, Tuchel opted for two but the inclusion of Germany centre-back Hummels and experienced goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller hardly weakened the side.
Dortmund have not lost since the Bundesliga’s mid-winter break in December – a run of 15 matches – and it was no surprise to see them dominate possession, goal attempts and passes but they found a Liverpool defence, perhaps lifting their game for the occasion which Klopp told them not to play, in defiant mood.
Centre-backs Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren have had their critics but both put their bodies on the line for everything.
If it was not the former’s outstretched leg denying Henrikh Mkhitaryan an almost certain goal or stopping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s pass reaching the unmarked Marco Reus it was his partner, with possibly the best block of the night on Aubameyang, with goalkeeper Simon Mignolet brilliantly tipping over a Reus shot from the resulting corner.
Aubameyang, Reus and Mkhitaryan – Dortmund’s trio of goalscorers whose combined tally of 75 bettered the entire Liverpool squad – all had efforts off target.
But despite being short of goals the visitors posed their own threat with Lovren heading straight at Weidenfeller before Origi’s crowning moment arrived in the 36th minute.
James Milner easily beat Hummels in the air to flick on Alberto Moreno’s chip and Origi, not for the first time, got the better of Lukasz Piszczek and held off the full-back long enough to angle a shot which, with the slightest of deflections off the defender, beat Weidenfeller.
Klopp had promised to celebrate if his new club scored against his former employers and celebrate he did, thumping his chest and roaring “Boom” on the touchline.
One can only imagine the German’s reaction had Origi beaten Weidenfeller in a one-on-one in final seconds of first-half added time.
Liverpool lost Jordan Henderson at half-time to a knee injury while Dortmund sent on former Reds loanee Nuri Sahin for Erik Durm but within three minutes the hosts were level when the visitors switched off at a short corner and Hummels headed home.
Unbowed Philippe Coutinho forced Weidenfeller into two smart quick-reaction low saves and both sides continued to trade blows with regularity but neither could deliver the killer strike.
Origi eventually made way for Sturridge six minutes from time after a performance which displayed a growing maturity.