Borussia Dortmund 1 Hummels 48'
Liverpool 1 Origi 36'
Jürgen Klopp's decision to start Divock Origi ahead of Daniel Sturridge paid off as the Belgian scored what could turn out to be an all-important away goal in a tightly contested affair at the Signal Iduna Park, but lax set piece defending takes some of the shine off a very professional performance.
The only real topic ahead of tonight's match that didn't focus solely on Liverpool's manager was whether Daniel Sturridge or Divock Origi would start. Origi's straight line speed got the nod in a counter attacking scheme, while the rest of the XI remained unchanged from Saturday's draw with Tottenham. The formation was given a slight tweak, as James Milner joined Jordan Henderson and Emre Can in a midfield three, leaving the striker with little direct support, but reinforcing the central midfield.
After an electrifying rendition of YNWA, the match started out in a predictable pattern, with Dortmund looking slick, accurate and mobile on the ball, while the visitors stayed disciplined in their defensive positions. Simon Mignolet likely extinguished more than a few souls from the world on four minutes when he executed a perfect Cruyff turn against an onrushing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in his own box. Can was booked for a late challenge on Marco Reus, as Liverpool struggled to break through the German counter press, and failed to back up Origi when clearing the ball long.
Reus fired a long-range warning shot on fifteen minutes, easily collected by Mignolet. Then Dortmund displayed their class as a floated diagonal through-ball found an unmarked Marcel Schmelzer streaking towards the far post. The fullback's cross found Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Mamadou Sakho was on hand with a life-saving block to keep the Armenian's shot out.
Three minutes later, the Reds pulled out a unicorn - a good set piece of their own - as Milner's inswinging cross found Dejan Lovren in the box. His header went into the ground and straight at Roman Weidenfeller, before Lovren's forehead followed suit. There was a break in play as the German goalkeeper had a bloody mouth tended to and a new shirt delivered. A Milner roulette minutes later indicated that this was indeed a night of implausibilities, and hopes rose among visiting fans.
Dortmund's pressing forced Henderson into a sloppy backpass and Aubameyang broke through, but Sakho was again on hand to block the cutback. The Schwarzgelben were starting to exhibit their quality, and found space between Liverpool's defence and worryingly disjointed midfield several times, culminating in a Mkhitaryan shot from range.
Then the counter tactic paid off. Alberto Moreno chipped a ball forward towards Milner, and Origi, who had been fighting aerial duels and coming deep for thirty minutes made a run behind the duel. He held off the challenge of Sven Bender and tucked the ball away in Weidenfeller's right-hand corner. The Reds had their away goal, and the expectation was for the match to continue in the same vein, likely with more pressure from the home side. Instead, Philippe Coutinho was bundled over in the box and appealed for a penalty, before some sexy one-touch backheel interplay between Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne lead to a shot from the latter. Milner's follow-up from the rebound was blocked and Dortmund were spending a lot of time defending.
Injury time held a chance for either side. Mkhitaryan found Aubameyang's diagonal run to the near post, but Lovren made a heroic last ditch block. Then Origi patiently held his run as Moreno played him in, but an unlucky first touch and an aggressive Weidenfeller combined to force the Belgian striker into a rushed chip attempt, which bounced off the goalkeeper's shoulder.
Joe Allen came on for a struggling Henderson at half-time, as Liverpool set out to defend their lead, but Dortmund equalised almost immediately. It was that familiar foe, set-piece marking to blame once more, as Mats Hummels was left in acres of space after a short corner and easily headed home Mkhitaryan's cross.
Once again, the expectation was more pressure from the home side, and once again Liverpool defied it. Origi was starting to heat up, and a quick dribble past his marker lead to a shot from 20 yards that flew wide. Minutes later, he styled on Lukasz Piszczek on the left wing and found Allen in the box. A pass to Lallana and a first-time sole flick found Coutinho, whose initial shot was blocked. The Brazilian smashed his own rebound at goal, and only a wonderful save from Weidenfeller kept the scores even. Clyne tested the goalkeeper from 20 yards, and Coutinho had a third effort saved, this time hitting it straight down the middle.
The game settled down from there, as Liverpool found defensive solidity and Dortmund ran out of ideas. A Reus free kick was easily saved by Mignolet, Sakho again stepped in after a filthy Hummels long ball and some neat interplay released Schmelzer, and a Castro shot from a narrow angle was punched away by Mignolet. A rash challenge from Moreno aside, there was little action of note in the last thirty minutes, and Liverpool secured an away goal advantage.
This was pretty encouraging stuff, people. Klopp's tactical nous was on full display, as an attacking powerhouse that has already scored 116 goals this season was held to a single goal and very few chances. Liverpool varied the intensity of their press throughout the match to good effect, and had several big opportunities from counters and intelligent pressing.
Special credit goes to the centre-back pairing of Sakho and Lovren, who were excellent, covering for each other and keeping the attacking trident of Dortmund remarkably quiet. Lallana worked relentlessly all night, while Origi grew in confidence after his goal, isolating and at times bullying Bender to the extent that he was substituted in the second half. Milner had a rough start, but grew into the match as he re-familiarised himself with the central midfield role. Can was terrible in the first half and massive in the second, reversing his traditional second-half fade, while Henderson was just bad, and his substitution would've been justified even if he didn't pick up a knock.
Few fans would've been disappointed with a draw and an away goal before the game, and they still shouldn't be, as the performances was hugely auspicious. Yet, the ETW in all of us will no doubt rue the missed chances and the wasted opportunity to start the second leg with an even greater advantage. Next week's Anfield date will be a tough one regardless, and all fans can really do is put their faith in Klopp's ability to put together another appropriate game-plan.