In what may have been the most breathless, colorful and dramatic match many of us have ever witnessed, Borussia Dortmund lost to Liverpool and former manager Jurgen Klopp at Anfield Thursday 4-3 (5-4 agg), as Dejan Lovren scored in extra time, eliminating the German side from advancing to the Europa League semifinals in front of a packed crowd of passionate supporters.
Despite what many Dortmund fans (and fans of German football generally) will consider a gut-wrenching loss, the reality is that losing this match isn’t that big a deal for Dortmund, for a number of reasons.
First, although it has grown in prestige, the reality is that the Europa League competition is still a poor relation to the Champions League as far as perception worldwide, and financial reward. The Europa League remains almost a consolation prize rather than the real deal, for a big club. Do you hear any Chelsea fan bragging about the Blues winning the Europa League a few years back?
Secondly, although Dortmund were considered one of the top clubs to win this year’s competition, the actual semifinal foursome vying to lift the trophy would have been more daunting than perhaps imagined. Sevilla, Villarreal and Shakhtar Donetsk are the other clubs in addition to Liverpool who have now qualified for this year’s semifinals. Sevilla have won the last two Europa League tournaments, four of the last ten. La Liga clubs have won four of the last six Europa League titles, while no German club has made the finals since Werder Bremen did in 2008/2009, where they were defeated by……umm, Shakhtar Donetsk, who look equally able to win it all this season. To think that Dortmund beating Liverpool today would have meant Dortmund winning the Europa League is a foregone conclusion not based on any recent trends.
Additionally, Dortmund’s loss gives the club time to focus on the DFB Pokal. Given that they have a tough semifinal draw in Berlin against a surprisingly good Hertha next Wednesday, a club they played to a 0-0 draw in Berlin back in February, the ability to focus on that match with less distraction won’t hurt Dortmund’s chances of a win. And, if Dortmund should advance against Die Alte Dame while Bayern advance against Werder Bremen Tuesday, it will set up a Bayern-Dortmund final in Berlin on May 21, with Bayern coming into that match having played two tough Champions League matches in the intervening weeks, contests that may leave the Bavarians more banged up than the yellow-blacks come May 21.
Ok, that last reason may be a bit lame, but honestly, losing to Liverpool at Anfield Thursday wasn’t that big of a deal in the overall picture. The main thing is that Dortmund have come back from a subpar 2014/2015 under Thomas Tuchel to become once again a top club. They will play Champions League football next season, most likely finish a solid second to Bayern Munich this season and have a good chance to win the Pokal.
Moreover, Dortmund were involved in one of the most dramatic matches in recent times Thursday. Playing at storied Anfield, against a famous Liverpool club managed by the man who brought Dortmund their most recent glories, made for superb theater, as did the Dortmund supporters at Anfield, joining with their LFC peers in singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ The banners held aloft by both sets of supporters showing mutual respect, along with the sheer noise and cheering, created an incredible TV experience for viewers around the world. That Dortmund lost in the closing minutes of the match only added to the drama, and really doesn’t diminish BvB’s bounceback this season. Tuchel’s club played well in this series, and although defense let the club down at Anfield, overall Dortmund’s new manager has markedly turned the club’s defending around in 2016.
The bottom line is that Dortmund lost, and that is disappointing. But not tragic. That Thomas Tuchel’s club played with flair in a dramatic away setting, against one of the world’s most famed clubs managed by the man who accomplished so much at Dortmund, does little to hurt Dortmund’s standing in the eyes of footballing fans worldwide — instead, I’d venture to say that the Ruhr Valley won new fans today. Dortmund’s future is bright again, even without Klopp, and that’s more than any single loss can diminish for long.