Klopp must outfox Mourinho to prove himself as a coach

By Falko Bloding | Goal.com Germany

To class Borussia Dortmund’s Champions League journey last season as disappointing would be an enormous understatement. Fresh from their famous Bundesliga title success, big things were expected of Jurgen Klopp’s side on the European stage, only for them to crash out in the group stage.

The 2012-13 campaign will determine whether the Schwarzgelben and their coach learned from the experience of last term, and with Real Madrid waiting in the wings, the German champions will be facing the sternest examination that the Continent has to offer.

In his homeland, Jurgen Klopp is both a hugely popular figure, and a proven coach. He is yet to earn that recognition in Europe, but, on Wednesday, he will have the chance to pit his wits against Jose Mourinho, one of the finest in the business. And a good performance against Los Blancos will certainly win him a reputation outside of Germany.

Last season, Dortmund approached the Champions League with an air of naivety, going for the jugular in each match, only to be met with a different type of opponent and a rude awakening. In the current campaign, they have clearly been trying a different approach.

In the home clash with Ajax, they were far more conservative, waiting patiently until the dying moments to secure the three points. They followed this up with a courageous performance at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City, which won them many plaudits, despite Mario Balotelli’s late equaliser.

KLOPP AT BVB | July 2008 – October 2012

League games
Win ratio
 European games
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4 144  57% 18  33%

And now, the moment of truth has arrived, and the test could not be tougher. A string of niggling injuries are currently plaguing the double winners, with many key players either out or in doubt. What’s more, Dortmund welcome Madrid to Germany on the back of a damaging home loss to rivals Schalke at the weekend.

Klopp was quick to shoulder the blame for the derby defeat, having deployed a 3-5-2 formation which wholly failed. Further experimentation against Madrid is unlikely, and all hopes will be pinned on the likes of Mario Gotze and Marcel Schmelzer recovering in time. If they do, there’s the unenviable task of outwitting Mourinho.

At first glance, the two coaches are fairly similar. Neither mince their words in interviews, and both bring a huge amount of entertainment value with them. Both master the media perfectly, attracting attention onto themselves to take the pressure off their players, but what really unites them is their treatment of officials.

There are differences: where Klopp avoids criticising opponents, the ‘Special One’ happily slams rival players and coaches, but if Klopp is able to mastermind a victory against Madrid on Wednesday and steer Dortmund through the ‘Group of Death’, he will have a record of success in Europe which challenges his recent triumphs in the domestic game.

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Lukasz Piszczek's audition to prove he should be Real Madrid's next right-back

By Enis Koylu | German Football Writer

It is perhaps fitting that Real Madrid will be facing Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday with a host of full-backs missing due to injury. Throughout the summer, Los Blancos searched for defensive reinforcements, only to fail to bolster their squad at the back.

And, of all the players linked with the Santiago Bernabeu, one name stands out above the rest: that of Lukasz Piszczek. Since making the move from Hertha Berlin to Signal Iduna Park in 2010, the Poland international has become an indispensable member of his team, helping them to back-to-back Bundesliga titles.

Going forward, there is arguably no finer full-back in world football. The 27-year-old’s intelligence, crossing and understanding with his colleagues on the right have made him a key feature of BVB’s slick attacks, while he has proven his eye for goal on more than one occasion, not least against Schalke at the Veltins Arena last season, when he scored a stunning volley to equalise in the first half.

Ever dependable at the back, there are few in Germany who can time a tackle better than him, his positioning is near-flawless, while he showcased his versatility by playing as a makeshift left wing-back in the 2-1 derby loss to Schalke on Saturday.

On the rare occasions that he is missing through injury, such as the 2-1 victory over Werder Bremen on the opening day of the Bundesliga season, his absence is certainly felt. Without him, there was a definite lack of shape and sense to his side’s defence, and JakubKubaBlaszczykowski, his partner in crime on the right wing, endured a frustrating evening with Oliver Kirch behind him.

Meanwhile, in the Spanish capital, Jose Mourinho’s back line looks to be shakier than ever before, conceding a string of sloppy goals in a slow start to their Liga defence. How they could have used a player with the presence and organisational skills of Piszczek.

Piszczek has undoubtedly made one of the most astonishing developments in the Bundesliga over the past two seasons. From being a mediocre player at relegated Hertha Berlin, he has become the league’s best right-back (despite Philipp Lahm playing there for Bayern) as his club claimed back-to-back titles. Piszczek is very strong defensively and is brilliant going forward, helping him pick up plenty of assists. His timing and vision are arguably his biggest strengths.

Falko Bloding | Goal.com Germany

Even if the former Inter boss had a full complement of defenders available for the trip to the Ruhr, his defence would be somewhat lacking in quality. Despite proving himself to be capable and possessing a wealth of experience, Alvaro Arbeloa was signed as little more than a back-up to Sergio Ramos, who has since announced his preference for a role at centre-back. On the other side, Fabio Coentrao’s inconsistencies since moving to La Liga from Portugal have been well documented, and Marcelo, while an excellent left-back, has always had problems with his rash tackling and on-pitch discipline.

However, on Wednesday, the only one of Madrid’s senior full-backs that Piszczek has a chance of facing is Ramos, with the visitors’ injury crisis likely to force the deployment of Michael Essien as a makeshift left-back. And it could be disastrous. If, as expected, Mario Gotze makes his comeback on the right of the attacking midfield three, the Germany star’s combination with Piszczek could make it an evening to forget for the Ghanaian.

There is, though, a significant blot on his copy book. As a youngster on loan in the Ekstraklasa, he was one of a number of players who helped fix a match between Zaglebie Lubin (his own team at the time) and Cracovia for a sum of around €25,000 in 2006. He later received a ban for his part in the scandal, which was eventually rescinded.

Piszczek was widely castigated in the wake of the saga, but on the other hand, it could be argued that it helped him develop as a player and a person. The harsh media treatment forced him to grow up, and fast, and aided his development into the model professional of 27 that we see today.

Of course, Jose Mourinho has often targeted younger players than Piszczek during his time in charge at the Bernabeu, and the Pole’s contract extension until 2017 means that he will cost any suitors a huge sum of money, but should they reignite their interest in him next summer, there’s no doubt that he would be worth every penny.

And on Wednesday, Piszczek will have ample opportunity to prove to Madrid and Mourinho just how good he is.

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Introducing the 16-year-old 'Balkan Messi' wanted by Real Madrid & Manchester United

By Luke Matthews | Balkan Football Writer

When Paris Saint-Germain take to the field at the Maksimir Stadium on Wednesday, Dinamo Zagreb supporters will likely be in awe of the talent at the disposal of the nouveau-riche French club.

In particular, there will be a vested interest in a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic, with the Sweden international’s Croatian and Bosnian roots well documented.

However, amongst the Dinamo fans there’s only one player of Bosnian-Croat descent on their lips at the moment and that’s 16-year-old wonderkid, Alen Halilovic. The teenager has only made three substitute appearances – scoring one goal in the process – for the Croatian champions, but already has been touted as the finest Balkan player of his generation.

His debut off the bench in a 3-1 win over bitter rivals Hajduk Split just under a month ago made him the youngest ever debutant in the Croatian top flight at 16 years and 102 days. Ten days later the attacking midfielder broke another record – this time becoming the league’s youngest ever goalscorer after netting with a superb Messi-esque chip in a 4-1 rout of Slaven Belupo.

With his pace, dribbling ability, deadly finishing combined with deceptive strength considering his small frame, the left-footed youngster has unsurprisingly earned comparisons with Lionel Messi.

Likening Halilovic to the Argentine superstar may be a little premature – he’s not the only Balkan player in recent years to be resembled to the Barcelona attacker. Fiorentina’s Stevan Jovetic also earned comparisons to Messi as a 17-year-old and while he is currently fulfilling his potential in Florence, he is doing so as an out-and-out forward.

His club team-mate Adem Ljajic was also likened to the Barca man when he burst onto the scene at Partizan Belgrade yet the Serbian international is only just starting to find his feet in Serie A.

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However, there is genuine belief within the Dinamo Zagreb ranks that Halilovic is the best player to emerge from the club in recent memory – no mean feat considering Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar, Vedran Corluka and the highly impressive Mateo Kovacic are all products of Dinamo’s academy in the past decade or so.

One person who has been keeping a close eye on Halilovic’s development is Zagreb-based sports journalist, Aleksandar Holiga.

“Everyone at Dinamo are positive that Halilovic will grow up to become a world class player and that he’ll be better than Luka Modric,” Holiga told Goal.com.

“From what I’ve seen they might be right, the boy really is a bit special and it’s little wonder that clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United want him.”

With Halilovic’s undeniable talent and Dinamo’s modest financial status, it is indeed no surprise that the elite clubs of Europe are sniffing around the 16-year-old. The youngster appears grounded though, recently playing down the transfer talk.

“Stories about Manchester United and Real Madrid? I do not spend much time thinking about those ­rumours. Dinamo Zagreb will ­decide what happens,” Halilovic stated.

“All I have to do is try to improve as much as I can – everything else does not matter now.”

The attacker recently signed his first professional contract with Dinamo, which will run until 2014, despite heavy interest for his signature from other sides.

His father, Sejad, currently a coach at Dinamo after a semi-successful career which saw him become the only player in history to represent both Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina was heavily involved in the negotiations to ensure that his son stays in Zagreb for the foreseeable future.

With Halilovic valued at around €12-15 million, it looks unlikely the 16-year-old will be making a move just yet. What does seem more of a certainty is it won’t be long until Halilovic is a name on the lips of football fans throughout Europe.

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Madrid contest is a good day to deliver something extraordinary, says Ricken

By Falko Bloding

Borussia Dortmund hero Lars Ricken believes that the team have learned their lesson from last season’s failure in the Champions League.

Fresh from their Bundesliga triumph in 2010-11, Jurgen Klopp’s side flattered to deceive on the European stage, finishing fourth in their group.

However, going into their matchday three clash against Real Madrid on Wednesday, they already have four points to their name, and the 36-year-old feels that they have turned the corner.

“The team learned a lot about playing in Europe last season,” he explained to Goal.com.

“Most recently, they showed against Manchester City that they are capable of doing remarkable things. I think Wednesday is a good day to deliver something extraordinary.”

“Anticipation in the area is very great, especially with a team of real superstars visiting”

Lars Ricken

Ricken was part of the team for the 1997-98 semi-final against Madrid, which was delayed when the goal posts collapsed, and the 2002-03 meeting of the two sides in the second group stage.

And the former Germany international has revealed that the Dortmund locals are anxious as they seek revenge for their previous eliminations at the hands of the nine-time champions.

“Neither I, nor the fans, can forget what’s happened here over the last few years. We’re all very grateful

“I look at the area. Of course, the anticipation is very great, particularly with a team of real superstars visiting. I was there in 1998 at the ominous game where the goal fell.

“Then again in 2003, when Madrid were on the brink of defeat, only for us to collapse in injury time. You don’t forget these quickly.”

The Schwarzgelben fell 12 points behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race when they lost 2-1 to Schalke at home on Saturday, and the one-time Germany midfielder admitted that Klopp’s side are unlikely to turn it around, but still saluted the former Mainz trainer’s influence on the club.

“[What’s missing] is the coolness. What’s more, I think many teams have become eager to beat Dortmund, the champions.

“Right now you have to wonder: who will stop Bayern? I believe, at this point in the season, there is no way back.

“Neither I, nor the fans, can forget what’s happened here over the last few years. In 2005, Dortmund were almost bankrupt, but we’re all very grateful for the last two years.”

Ricken scored the winning goal for Dortmund in the 1997 Champions League final against Juventus, and spent his entire professional career at the Westfalenstadion.

Kompany: Manchester City's past Champions League results irrelevant

Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany has insisted his side’s previous results in the Champions League are now irrelevant.

City have suffered a slow start to their European campaign, having fallen to defeat at the hands of Real Madrid before scraping a home draw against Borussia Dortmund.

However, the club captain has called on his team-mates to move on from earlier disappointments and show belief they can win every game.

“The past is irrelevant; we’ll go into tomorrow’s game hoping we can win like we always do,” he told reporters.

“It’s wrong to bring up everything that might have gone wrong in the past, i think we have shown so many great things in the past couple of years.

“We have done a lot of great things this season. When it comes to character, when it comes to spirit and strength within the team to overturn situations, that’s something we can only achieve collectively.

“We still think we have got a big chance and we are capable of winning every game. We will go into the game tomorrow with a positive attitude and with the feeling we have had a good start to the season.

“We are not looking at any game thinking “we can’t win this game.” We always have the feeling when we go into games that we can win them.”

City face Ajax on Wednesday with Frank de Boer’s men sitting bottom of Group D and yet to earn a point, but Kompany is certain his side will be tested at the Amsterdam ArenA.

“Ajax is a club of legends and has always had one of the best youth systems in the world,” he continued.

“I have a massive amount of respect for Ajax. Obviously tomorrow is a game we need to win as much as they need to win.

He added, “I think it’s a very tough group. There’s not gonna be any easy games, tomorrow is gonna be [difficult] one again. It’s very tight, but that makes it exciting.

“We’re a very disciplined team and we have shown we have a great capacity to react, and tomorrow is a different game, a different set-up and it’s just important to win.”