After Dortmund’s stunning 4-1 thrashing of Real Madrid in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final, one thing is clear: Jose Mourinho was thoroughly out-coached by Jurgen Klopp. Let’s take a look at each of the meetings between these two and determine where Klopp fits among the best managers in world football.
Paired together in this season’s Champions League group of death (Group D), Dortmund and Madrid first faced off in October 24th at the now famed Signal Iduna Park. After Robert Lewandowksi broke the deadlock in the 36th minute, Cristiano Ronaldo leveled two minutes later with a sensational lob that cut the Yellow Wall down to a whisper. The leveler changed the complexion of the game and many believed Mourinho would seize the momentum going into the second half. But it didn’t happen. Instead, it was Dortmund who collected itself, neutralized Ronaldo, and were the stronger second-half side, deservedly getting a 64th minute winner through Marcel Schmelzer’s volley.
The win had pundits shocked and most attributed the victory to Dortmund’s fantastic home support. It was predicted to be a different story when the two sides met at Madrid’s Santiago Bernebeu two weeks later, with Los Blancos heavy favorites. But it would take an exquisite 88th minute Mesut Ozil free-kick that bounced off the post and in to provide Madrid with a 2-2 draw.
Klopp’s men had once again contained Ronaldo and outplayed their opponent prompting Mourinho to predict: “If they go through they are candidates to win the tournament.” Consensus was that Dortmund had been unlucky to draw 2-2 at the Bernabéu but they nevertheless had taken four points off Madrid. All across Europe the talk was of Jurgen Klopp.
The Dortmund manager revealed how he took apart Madrid in an interview with El País before Los Merengues met Manchester United in the Round of 16. “We knew where they send their passes, how they look for Cristiano,” Klopp said. “Our plan was to take Xabi Alonso out of the game. Because if Alonso is allowed to play how he wants it’s impossible to defend against Madrid. And Götze covered him. We knew that if our wide players, Piszczek and Schmelzer move a lot, the advantage was ours on Cristiano’s side of the pitch. If you block Xabi, you oblige Pepe to always keep the ball.”
A well reasoned plan, if there ever was one. But why would Klopp show his hand like that? Was it cockiness? Doubtful, as the manager is known to be as down-to-earth as they come. Perhaps he was simply trying to provide a blue-print for other squads to take the reigns in knocking Mourinho’s team out of the competition. Unfortunately for United, it didn’t work.
So when Madrid and Dortmund were paired for the semi-finals one expected that Mourinho would have a re-designed game plan. Certainly the ‘Special One’ would have figured out BVB’s weakness and concocted a means to exploit it. After all, this was exactly what he did when managing Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League. After losing and drawing to Barcelona in the group stage, Mourinho’s men faced the Blaugrana in the semi-finals and knocked them out.
So naturally, the question going into last night’s match was – What would Mourinho could come up with to put an end to Klopp’s brief dominance? The answer, as the footballing world saw so clearly, was nothing. Despite going into the match as slight favorites to win at Westfalenstadion, Madrid were trounced by the plucky German side. And how did Klopp do it? Pretty much the exact same way he explained to El País in February, by eliminating Xabi Alonso and denying Madrid the left side (Ronaldo’s side) of the pitch.
Did Ronaldo manage to get on the score sheet? Sure. But besides that moment, which was 99% constructed by Gonzalo Higuain, Ronaldo was completely shut down by Lukasz Piszcek, Marco Reus, Sven Bender and Ilkay Gundogen. Klopp’s defense was compact, working in a 35 yard zone between midfield and the top of their 18 yard box. Any possession that Madrid enjoyed was among the back four. Pepe was once again put into focus and couldn’t handle the pressure. Why Mourinho chose to play the fiery center-back – or Luka Modric in an advanced position where he couldn’t find the ball – is anyone’s guess. Anyone except Klopp, of course.
Since arriving at Dortmund in 2008, Klopp was won two Bundesliga titles, a DFB-Pokal title and a DFL-Supercup. Making those feats even more impressive is that Klopp managed to do this at a club that was on the brink of bankruptcy in 2006. With his side’s impressive run of form in this season’s Champions League, it looks the sky is the limit for the German gaffer.
Yet while Klopp’s recent achievement and tactical genius should earn him a place as one of the Top 5 managers in the game today, he still ranks well behind Mourinho. The same path that Klopp is currently trying to tread was blazed down by Mourinho 10 years ago when his Porto side surprised everyone to win the 2003-04 Champions League title. Since then the Portuguese manager has gone on to win an additional 14 trophies in nine years including two Premier League titles and an FA Cup with Chelsea, a Champions League title and two Serie A titles with Inter Milan, and a La Liga and Copa del Rey title with Real Madrid.
There’s no question that the Dortmund manager has a long way to go before he reaches the feats of Mourinho. But if anyone looks poised to overtake the title of “The Special One,” it’s Klopp.