Tuchel and Pep began moving salt shakers around the table
Reus, as gracefully fleet-footed as ever, or Shinji Kagawa, who has finally recaptured the form that prompted his ill-fated 2012 transfer to Manchester United, and you have a team that is no less exciting than Klopp’s class of 2013.
Which begs the question: what happened last year? After all, the main reason Klopp stepped down in the summer was the nightmarish nature of the 2014-15 season – one so bad that not even a late surge and qualification for the Europa League could salvage it. In fact, in barely 18 months, the same group of players went from being title contenders to relegation candidates, then bounced straight back into the title race.
You would think that the players have had more than enough time to come up with an explanation for last season’s collapse, but most find it far easier to dissect their recent rise. When you ask them how in heaven’s name they could sink to the bottom of the pile only 12 months ago, heads are shaken and shoulders shrugged. “Once you have fallen into a downward spiral, it’s very difficult to get out of it again,” Schmelzer says. “You go into a game knowing that you just have to win – and suddenly you’re a goal down yet again. It becomes a vicious circle.”
Even the eloquent Mkhitaryan can only describe, not analyse, what happened. “Football has become so competitive that you can’t take anything for granted any more,” he says. “Look at Chelsea. They were champions last year; now they are near the relegation places. That’s football. Anything can happen.”
And yet there was one possible explanation tentatively voiced by observers last year which may have been retroactively substantiated by the team’s current form. As early as November 2014, Klopp was asked if his football had been “decoded” – whether opponents had learned how to put what the coach called his “pressing machine” into neutral.
The question never failed to annoy Klopp – “Can you decode pace?” he once asked back with thinly veiled sarcasm – but it may have been a valid one if rephrased only slightly. Of course football isn’t a computer programme you can easily infect with a virus once you know the code. But maybe, after seven years under one coach, Dortmund’s game had become a bit one-dimensional. Maybe the team needed a new impulse to reach the next level.
Mkhitaryan slowly nods. “Take the restaurant business as an example,” he says (having grown up in France, he knows a thing or two about fine dining). “If you have a good restaurant, there will be people coming to eat at your place every day. However, if you have the same menu for five or six years, they will eventually grow tired of your restaurant. I think it’s the same with football. Every once in a while, you have to change your style and show your supporters that playing in a different way can be fun, too.”
Which brings us back to the man on the cherry picker. The 42-year-old Tuchel may be largely unknown outside his homeland, but
Shinji Kagawa shows Man United fans what all the fuss was about