Dynamic managers Jurgen Klopp and Roger Schmidt don't have a plan B
Of all the possible reasons for a defeat, tactics rarely used to get mentioned in Germany. Disappointing results would always be blamed on the players. They were either a) not good enough or b) didn't want it enough or c) both.
In addition, observers would cite diffuse, equally unquantifiable factors like "lack of leadership", too much harmony in the dressing room or to little thereof. Coaches were seen as motivators, first and foremost. If they didn't get results, it was due to the manager's inability to get the team doing what they wanted. Almost no one wondered whether the flaw lay with his ideas, rather than the execution.
The last decade has seen a paradigm shift in the way football is being thought about, however. Managers like Ralf Rangnick, Thomas Tuchel, Jurgen Klopp and Louis van Gaal have broken the mold by putting the system, not the players, at the centre. "Konzeptfußball," or concept football, became a buzz word but it's since disappeared because it's no longer needed. Having a strong, clearly defined concept has become the norm, not the exception in the Bundesliga.
As a consequence, much more is expected of managers.
They're better rewarded than ever before but also scrutinized more heavily. And the more readily identifiable (read: extreme) their tactics are to the naked eye, the easier it is for the media (as well as disgruntled players) to apportion blame when things don't work out. This new, tactic-centric narrative has taken over, and not just in Germany.
The hysterical, nuance-free debate about Pep Guardiola's possession style in the wake of the Champions League semifinal defeat defeat by Real Madrid was a good example, as was the disastrous showing of a tired, out-of-shape Spain at the World Cup. "Tiki-taka is dead," screamed a million op-ed pieces.
This week, two Bundesliga managers experienced that very dynamic. Kicker magazine dubbed Borussia Dortmund's troubles, in the wake of the 2-1 defeat by Schalke 04 in the Ruhr derby, die Klopp-Krise, or Klopp's crisis. Wasn't his high-pressing style responsible for the defensive problems and a slip down to 12th place?
However, the coach himself had vowed to play an even more aggressive style this season, with two strikers who have to constantly attack the ball to help a midfield that would otherwise outnumbered.
Over in Leverkusen, the very same questions were asked of Roger Schmidt. The 47-year-old had not won a game in five with his radical pressing style, and the early euphoria after the great start to the season was beginning to give way to fundamental doubts about his tactical plans. He had vowed not to divert from his plan, however.
In order to stave off further criticism, Klopp and Schmidt needed wins on Wednesday night in the Champions League. And they got them. "The convincing win helped (the coach) deflect doubt about his system," wrote WDR after Leverkusen's 3-1 over Benfica in the BayArena.
"When you play like that, it's easy to see that early pressing and 'forward-defending' can be a useful ploy to keep the opponent out of the danger zone in the first place," explained Schmidt. Note the "easy to see" bit. He had undoubtedly been irked by the suggestion that his system was too risky, or to put it differently, that people had homed in exclusively on the negatives.
Klopp's status at Dortmund is much more secure, so he didn't have to bang on about tactics after the successful outing in Brussels (his team won 3-0 against Anderlecht). He spoke rather humbly about "having a bit of luck" in front of both goals, admitted that his team hadn't been perfect at the back and cheered better individual performances by his strikers -- Ciro Immobile and Adrian Ramos scored all of the goals between them -- as well as by his defenders.
Schmidt and Klopp don't believe in having a Plan B.
They're exposed in that sense but they're happy with that trade-off. Anyone who's familiar with their respective bodies of work is aware that their ideas are fundamentally sound. But that's only part of the job. Because their tactics are highly demanding, physically and mentally, of their players, they need to make sure that the players continue to buy into it.
As soon as one or two key figures start believing that the team would be better off with a less frenetic pace, they'd be finished as coaches. The great secret of Europe's best coaches isn't so much that they're smarter than their peers but that they find ways to get their players to implement their ideas.
Klopp never stops talking about hard work, brutality and his wish to make life uncomfortable for the opposition. The beauty of Borussia's style -- and that of other hard-pressing teams -- is won through pain. Pain for the other team, but also pain for their own side.
Players will only endure such hardship if the results are good and if they trust their manager. All three factors are interdependent on each other. Looking at the perceived flaws of a system in isolation of other factors is just as reductive as disregarding it altogether was a decade ago.
Klopp is a complete coach; he can take care of all these things. That is his secret. And that's why after all the crisis talk, WELT were right to write that Dortmund would sooner "change their club colours to Royal Blue before he would come under fire by the club's board," on Thursday.
Schmidt, who's often referred to as "Klopp 2.0" isn't quite there yet but he's on his way. High-concept football, with all its pitfalls, is much preferable to no-concept football, in this case. Just ask the Schalke 04 supporters after the 1-1 draw with NK Maribor.
Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC's German football expert and a regular guest on ESPN FC TV. He also writes for the Guardian. Twitter: @honigstein.