Liverpool take a 2-1 lead into the second leg against TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in the Champions League Qualifying Match on Wednesday night with goals from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Havard Nordtveit (OG) however, Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim are still in this tie with a goal from Mark Uth just minutes from time. We could well be talking a different narrative had Andrej Kramaric netted his penalty when the scores were level at 0-0.
That said, it’s surprising to see just how may Liverpool fans perhaps underestimated Hoffenheim. Doing a remarkable job as head coach, 30-year-old Nagelsmann has taken Hoffenheim from relegation candidates to Champions League football in just 18 months. Revolutionising football, Nagelsmann has already been linked to succeed Carlo Ancelotti at Bayern Munich when the opportunity arises but for the time being, his head is at Hoffenheim.
Obviously Hoffenheim need to get a goal at Anfield, but don’t expect them to attack straight from the off. An early goal is nice to settle the nerves but attacking from the kick-off could also pose unnecessary problems for Hoffenheim, especially given that for some of these players it’s their taste of European football.
Team news and tactics:
Perhaps with the second leg in mind, Klopp rested Dejan Lovren, Emre Can and Mohamed Salah in their 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at the weekend. With that in mind, it’s extrememly likely that all three will start – just as they did in the first leg – on Wednesday.
Klopp has stated that Philippe Coutinho is “ill” with interest from Barcelona peaking, while Nagelsmann can expect Roberto Firmino to lead the line with Salah and Sadio Mane on either flank. Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum and Can all impressed in the first leg, but we could well see James Milner in midfield, should he feature.
Hoffenheim fans will be hoping to see Alberto Moreno at left-back who had a shakey game at the Rhein-Neckar Arena last week but an impressive performance for Andrew Robertson could see the youngster start in his place.
What Hoffenheim could well see from Klopp is Liverpool set up in a way not to concede goals. But this could be a risky approach, given TSG’s attacking threat. Stakes are high in this tie and so the first goal will be key.
Perhaps heading into this game, Hoffenheim won’t feel any pressure. Yes, it’s a Champions League tie against the mighty Liverpool but, that could work in their favour. Nagelsmann made six changes in the opening weekend of the Bundesliga, that saw them get three points against Werder Bremen, which means fresh legs are available, unlike Klopp who has the situation that some of the starters on Wednesday will make their fourth appearance in just two weeks.
As always, Nagelsmann will start out with his initial 5-2-3 which can easily transition into a 3-4-3, just as the official starting XI in Germany showcased. Kevin Vogt will start at the heart of the defence with Benjamin Hübner and either one of Nordtveit or Ermin Bičakčić on the right of him.
Nagelsmann has stated that he has a fully fit squad to choose from and with Jeremy Toljan likely to leave, expect Steven Zuber to start as the LWB once again, having impressed in the opening fixture. Although he’s often a ‘super sub’ Uth could make his claim for a starting birth having netted on Tuesday, but expect Kramaric to lead the line with Serge Gnabry.
What they said:
Klopp: “The difference between the first and second leg tomorrow is everyone knows how good Hoffenheim are. You don’t get anywhere in football without respect. It’s clear that Hoffenheim have great qualities.”
Nagelsmann: “Of course we’re aware of the away goals rule in the Champions League, but we want to score two goals first. Anfield has seen many great games. Tomorrow I hope we can put in a big performance. We’re not in ‘awe’ of this place. We won’t be intimidated. Anticipation is the right word. We got into the game in full confidence and we firmly believe that we can do it.”
Uth: “I’m seriously excited about playing there – it will be my first time. Everyone knows Antfield and everyone wants to play against Liverpool. This is our chance to do that. I’m not nervous, quite the opposite – I will cherish the opportunity. We all want to have a fantastic game and come out with a victory.
“We all know we have a chance of progressing. We’re going to pick up where we left off and look for the early goal. Our first half against Liverpool last week was particularly strong and that’s what we want to reproduce at Antfield. I can promise the fans that we will give it our all for 90 minutes.”
Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – A player that Klopp was interested in during his tenure at Borussia Dortmund, Roberto Firmino has made the forward role his own at Anfield in the past six months. Given the No. 9 at Liverpool the Brazilian has scored 24 and created 23 goals during his time under the German, making him one of the first names on the teamsheet. Hoffenheim’s three-man defence will need to keep a watchful eye on the 25-year-old otherwise their evening could be over before it’s even started.
Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim) – There’s a reason why Kramaric has been linked with a move to Bayern Munich this summer. After joining the club on an initial loan deal from Leicester City in January 2016, the Croatia international has gone on to score 24 goals in all competitions for Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim, in just 18 months, resulting in a permanent move to the Sinsheim club. The 26-year-old played a key role in a front three for TSG last season, helping them to qualify for the Champions League.
Prediction – Liverpool 1-2 Hoffenheim (Liverpool win on penalties):
Once again, Hoffenheim will show just what they’re capable of on the European stage. Underestimated by many Liverpool fans, the front-three of Kramaric, Gnabry and Sandro Wagner has shown that they can break down any defence. If the starting XI has Moreno in it, then expect Nagelsmann to be gleaming – given the ability that Gnabry possesses.
Hoffenheim do have a goal in them whilst their players will certainly relish the opportunity to play at Anfield, a stadium that has hosted so many historic European nights. TSG will need to keep it tight at the back too, whilst the fluidity of Salah & Co. can cause Hoffenheim problems. This tie could well see extra time, but Liverpool ought to have enough in them to progress to the group stages.
By Daniel Pinder.