Despite the conceding of a late goal, Liverpool are firmly in the driving seat after winning their Champions League play-off first leg 2-1…
The glamour and riches of the Champions League proper are within touching distance for Jürgen Klopp and his Liverpool players after an improved display saw them better Hoffenheim in Germany.
The return at Anfield next Wednesday won’t be a foregone conclusion however with Tuesday night’s hosts, who bossed possession for long periods at their Rhein-Neckar-Arena, proving themselves a tricky and dangerous customer.
Indeed, Liverpool’s 2-1 play-off first leg victory could easily have turned out differently had goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who would later deny both Serge Gnabry and Nadiem Amiri in impressive fashion, not saved an early penalty.
At the other end, the unchanged Reds carried their usual threat with both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino missing good chances during an entertaining contest.
The opening goal came in the 35th minute and from an unlikely source in rookie full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold. The youngster, who had served notice of his set-piece ability with a series of dangerous deliveries during Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Watford, stepping up and bending a wonderful free-kick into the bottom corner.
The goal makes the 18-year-old the club’s third youngest ever European goal scorer – behind Michael Owen and David Fairclough – and capped an impressive individual first-half showing in which he had more touches, completed more passes and made more interceptions than any other player.
Substitute James Milner, on for captain Jordan Henderson shortly after the hour mark, made it 2-0 to Liverpool in the 74th minute via a sizeable deflection off former West Ham United utility man Håvard Nordtveit.
Unfortunately, and despite the visitors improving markedly on their defensive horror show at Vicarage Road, Hoffenheim were given a glimmer of hope for the second leg when Mark Uth was found all-too-easily by a long ball and fired home three minutes from time.
Both teams could have scored further goals in a frantic climax but it was Liverpool who emerged victorious to inflict a first home defeat on the Germans since the end of the 2015/16 season.
Speaking after the final whistle, Klopp declared himself pleased with both the result and the performance, albeit understandably frustrated by Hoffenheim’s late strike.
“If somebody would have told me we’d win tonight I would’ve taken each result,” remarked the former Borussia Dortmund boss. “Even an 8-7. So I’m happy about the result, yes, I’m not happy about the goal they scored.
“I think they deserved a goal over the 90 minutes with their effort, but I also thought we played defensively really well because it was actually the plan to let them play in the spaces which are for us, not dangerous, not interesting and they have a specific style of play which is very good and really difficult to defend, so I thought we did really well and caused them a lot of problems with this.
“Yes, they had their moments, especially with diagonal balls when they changed a little bit their style of play and because we gambled a bit on both offensive wings, leaving Trent and Alberto [Moreno] alone so they could cross.
“I saw the penalty, I think it was offside – small but enough. Simon, together with John Achterberg [goalkeeping coach], did a really good job. It was a decisive moment, of course, not the decisive moment but it gave us a boost and is a little bit of a blow for the other team.
“We scored two goals and could’ve scored more, really good set-pieces from us, good headers that were unlucky, especially in the 47th minute I think, when Dejan [Lovren] with a great header and Joël [Matip], he played outstanding good but I would’ve scored in that moment!
“Overall, all good, so far. It’s half-time, no more, but also no less.”
Before next week’s return with Hoffenheim, Liverpool play their first home Premier League game of the season on Saturday against Crystal Palace.
So that’s what both us and Klopp thought about the game, how about you? Let us know your views below…
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