Tuchel and Pep be­gan mov­ing salt shak­ers around the ta­ble

FourFourTwo - - INSIDE DORTMUND -

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

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