It was a word synonymous with the Brendan Rodgers tenure, “my team have shown great character” was a phrase blurted out at almost every press conference, post match interview or anytime the now unemployed manager met with the media.
For all his use of the word and emphasis on its importance, Rodgers’ Liverpool didn’t show much of it. When a goal down in a game during his tenure you felt it was game over especially towards the end of his reign.
Cast your eyes back to the Northern Irishman’s first year in charge. Reaching the round of 32 in the Europa League a trip to Russia ended in defeat as Zenit put two past Pepe Reina in Petersburg and left an uphill battle for the Reds.
Back in Anfield a week later and much like the Dortmund game this week an early set back made it a near impossible task, Hulk smashed one in after ten minutes and now requiring four goals it looked beyond them.
At Anfield, as we are well aware by now, things are rarely that straightforward, especially on big European nights. Two goals from Suarez and a rare strike from Joe Allen meant Liverpool had thirty minutes to find one more goal to send them through. That final goal eluded them.
Last night in Anfield in Klopp’s first season in charge we saw the stark contrast in both desire and, that word, character.
At 2-0 down you felt it was over, Origi’s strike gave a glimmer of hope but when Reus struck for the German side’s third you could just imagine all the Liverpool fans at home changing the channel in anger and disappointment.
A Coutinho strike on 60 minutes, much like that of fellow Premier League man Kevin De Bruyne two days earlier, had The Kop roaring again and the many who had switched channels frantically flicking back over to see what was set up for an intriguing last half hour.
When Sakho managed to evade all yellow jerseys in the box to head past Weidenfeller it was game on, The Kop was jumping and as BT Sport commentator Michael Owen remarked the Kop End could nearly “suck the ball into the net” in those dying moments.
The atmosphere was incredible and unlike four years ago against Zenit, one felt this was different. Dortmund were no doubt a better team than Zenit St Petersburg were but they couldn’t handle this onslaught.
Players were following the ball everywhere the shape was gone and every man in a red jersey knew this game was there for them. When Milner lofted the ball to the back post and Lovren leaped above Ramos at the back post, the unthinkable was complete.
The much maligned Croatian was the hero, in a moment like that of Gerrard against Olympiakos or Luis Garcia against Chelsea, Lovren was the man of the moment as unlikely as that may have seemed 30 minutes earlier.
Back when Liverpool needed a goal against Zenit it was a case of can Suarez pull this off? Against Olympiakos it was can Gerrard do something special? Luckily on that occasion he could.
This time it was a case of: Liverpool can do this, but who is going to be the one to step up? The fact it was Lovren showed everything that is good about this Klopp lead side. Liverpool are not dependent on one player they are a unit.
The game itself, as amazing as it was from a Liverpool point of view, was hard to take for Dortmund and manager Thomas Tuchel.
I can’t explain it. If I could explain it then something logical would have happened. You can’t explain it. When it became 3-3 everyone believed here, if you have such a strong belief then things happen”
Tuchel summed it up perfectly and his counterpart Klopp was just as baffled and surprised with what he had seen unfold before his eyes.
When we brought Joe Allen and Daniel on we gave them a message – we want to show character – we don’t care if we lose, we want to show character. I think that’s what European football can be at it’s best. Hard to believe it’s happened like this.
Upon his arrival in October of last year expectations were high. This was the man who won back to back Bundesliga titles, made it to a Champions League final and was adored by the fans in Dortmund he left behind.
Instant success was almost expected from the German and with wins against Chelsea and Manchester City, comfortable wins it must be noted, fans believed he was going to bring immediate glory.
Since then things haven’t exactly gone to plan, losing the League Cup final and inconsistent league performances which see the side in 8th place have ended any hopes of a successful year on the domestic front.
The Europa League had offered a light at the end of the tunnel and after a huge win over Manchester United had fans dreaming of more European success. Drawing Borussia Dortmund was a nightmare scenario.
Second in the Bundesliga and with some of the best attacking players in Europe in Aubameyang, Reus and Mkhitaryan this was the toughest draw out there.
Having overcome that sizeable hurdle, the tag of Europa League champions is not that far away and more importantly the reward of Champions League football next season.
The long term plan is no doubt to make a serious assault at the top four next season, however should they go on to win the Europa League this plan will be accelerated by maybe two years.
What is now looking a strong squad or the future, Origi has come from no where to look a top talent while Sturridge, Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana offer great options in attack, could be boosted considerably in the summer with Champions League football attracting the best of the best.
Only two months ago Sakho and Lovren were lost causes, now they’re heroes. “Character” was a word thrown around by Brendan Rodgers a lot but Klopp has already shown that he and his team have it in abundance.
If you questioned whether or not Klopp was onto something special at Anfield, question no more, this team is going places. The year might not even end with a trophy but there is no doubt there will be plenty in the coming years under Klopp.