Of all the narratives surrounding Borussia Dortmund vs. Liverpool, it was the relationship of the two head coaches that held the most intrigue. Winning this tie was about much more than just a Europa League semfinal.
Nearly six years ago to the day, Thomas Tuchel guided Mainz to a 1-0 win over Jürgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund. It was Tuchel's only success against the man whose footsteps he now continues to follow at Dortmund.
In Liverpool, armed with three of the men who started against him in the 2010 victory, Thomas Tuchel must have thought his second victory was on the way after an hour. But Jürgen Klopp's ghost is not so easily exorcised.
Klopp had said going into the tie that the meeting would be "all about the football." Tuchel, meanwhile, only ever faced the press with players who Klopp had never coached, perhaps seeking to avoid more awkward turns in the conversation. Other than the occasional, expected statement of respect, there was little acknowledgement of one another.
A high-stakes confrontation with Tuchel, a man who has spent years building on Klopp's foundations in Mainz and now at Dortmund, posed a rare opportunity for the Liverpool boss. If Klopp is a ghost still managing to haunt Tuchel, then the current Dortmund boss is a shadow that Klopp cannot escape.
What Klopp has that his successor doesn't is titles, and a chance to win one was at stake here. Dortmund are so improved under Tuchel that fans are already dreaming of silverware, rather than simply enjoying the upswing. Liverpool, by the same token, are a club thirsty to add to the trophies of years gone by.
And so underneath all the smiles and respect hummed a quiet undertone of conviction. "This is our night," figures from both camps seemed to believe.
On the touchline at Anfield, the pair shared a tiny coaching zone. Klopp, gesticulating and rousing his community with every passing minute, was just a few meters from the sharp-eyed and more cerebral Tuchel. From wild celebration to baffled frustration, the pair went through the full range of emotions in their shared space.
After all, this was more than just another meeting, or just a second leg, or just a quarterfinal, or even just a two-week media frenzy. It was the chance for one man to stand victorious at the end of this chapter in football history.
Klopp guided Mainz to Bundesliga promotion and club history. Tuchel arrived and consistently collected more points than anyone outside the top four, twice securing Europa League qualification.
Klopp then took Dortmund from mid-table members on the brink to two-time Bundesliga winners who broke the 80-point mark for the first time in league history. Tuchel has only been in charge for 49 games since Klopp's departure, but he's already steering BVB towards the best points tally of any runner-up in Bundesliga history. He has rejuvenated the side.
At the end of one of the most dramatic nights in European football, Klopp was the winner. The energetic, charismatic motivator left a quieter, pensive Tuchel drained. Dortmund are tactically smarter and stronger in possession than they were under Klopp, but this was not a night for extensive gameplans. It was a night for warm hearts and cool heads, which is what Jürgen Klopp does best.
At the end of the first leg, Tuchel walked off the pitch like a student coming out of an exam where the questions hadn't been what he had prepared for. This time around, he just looked pale as Klopp beamed, slapped his chest and hugged everyone in sight. It was clear who was king.