Ben Morgan gives us a round-up of what we can expect going into tonight’s game with Hoffenheim in the 2nd leg of our Champions League Qualifier
Champions League football returns to Anfield on Wednesday night, where Liverpool host TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in the 2nd leg of their Champions League Qualifier. Jurgen Klopp’s men ran out 2-1 winners at the Rhein–Neckar- Arena, thanks to a brilliant free kick from Trent Alexander Arnold, who became Liverpool’s youngest ever goal scorer in the Champions League with that strike, and a cross-come shot from James Milner, which took a deflection of former West Ham Man Harvard Nordtveit, which sent it crashing into the Hoffenheim goal. Hoffenheim got a late goal after a lapse in concentration from Trent Alexander-Arnold allowed substitute Mark Uth to fire his effort past Simon Mignolet, who earlier saved a penalty from former Leicester City striker Andrej Kramaric, to set up what should be a very entertaining game at Anfield.
(Trent celebrates after scoring a sublime free kick. Images from Liverpool Football Club)
The Reds haven’t played a home Champions League game since 2014, under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers where they only won at home to Ludogorets, losing to Real Madrid and FC Basel. That team however, was not near the standard of this, in 2014, we lost arguably one of our greatest ever strikers, in the controversial, yet brilliant, Luis Suarez. No one could anticipate how much we would miss the goals he scored, even more emphasised by the fitness concerns Daniel Sturridge had, which led to Raheem Sterling even being deployed as the number 9. That season in the Champions league was also made famous for the wrong reasons for the club, when Brendan Rodgers left the Clubs captain, the leader of the team, the catalyst, Steven Gerrard, who had more champions League experience and pedigree then anyone in the Liverpool side, and arguably on the pitch.
This time around Liverpool will be hoping to get into the group stages and beyond. Last week’s 2-1 win saw the Reds take the advantage in the tie, and a 1-0 over Crystal Palace at the weekend, who prior to the game had won their last 3 games at Anfield, will fill the side with even more confidence. This is especially true when looking at some of the weekends performances. Andrew Robertson had a near perfect home competitive debut, playing in cross after cross on the left hand side, and looking assured at the back, while it was pleasing to see Daniel Sturridge back leading the Reds line, as he looks to finally put his injury struggles to bed.
Team News – Liverpool:
Jurgen Klopp still has 4 injury concerns coming into Wednesday night’s clash. Adam Lallana is still a long term absentee, and could be ruled out till December. Danny Ings is set to continue his recovery from a long term knee issue with the Under 23 side, while Nathaniel Clyne his also missing due to ongoing muscular issues. Brazilian forward, Phillipe Coutinho, who remains at the club despite strong interest from Spanish Giants Barcelona, is still side lined due to a back injury. Klopp also confirmed the Brazilian is also ill now as well but everything was ‘100% okay’ between him and his forward, in his press conference.
Simon Mignolet is expected to continue between the Liverpool posts, while Trent Alexander-Arnold could return at right back, having been rested at the weekend. Dejan Lovren could also come back in to the reds back line alongside Joel Matip and Andrew Robertson will be hoping to build on his good performance from Saturday a left back.
Klopp is expected to name his preferred midfield trio of the skipper Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, and Gini Wijnaldum. Daniel Sturridge will be looking to get more minutes under his belt, after returning to the side in the 1-0 home win over Palace at the weekend. He could however be rested with an important home game on Sunday, with Arsenal bearing down, meaning Dominic Solanke could be set to start, and Roberto Firmino could also be rested against his old club. This would see a possible front three of Solanke, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, who got the winning goal at the weekend.
Team News- Hoffenheim:
Hoffenheim will be looking to make the most out of their late goal. We could see the same side being fielded by Julian Nagelsmann from last Tuesdays first leg encounter. That would mean goalkeeper Oliver Baumann is set to continue in goal. Former Arsenal man, Serge Gnarby, who looked lively, last week would start in midfield. The German winger is on loan at Hoffenheim from Bayern Munich, following a successful period at Werder Bremen. Former Leicester man Kramaric could lead the attacking line, alongside danger man Sandro Wagner. Kevin Vogt will likely continue in the backline, the defender impressed last week. Kerem Demirbay will also likely start, the young German impressed at the U21 European Championships in the summer.
What to Expect?
Expect a fantastic atmosphere first and foremost. Anfield is known for its electric atmosphere on European nights; expect this to be no different. Hoffenheim were very dangerous last week, and caused the Liverpool backline issues throughout the evening. It took a very good Simon Mignolet performance to stop them netting. Liverpool will be again looking to break on the counter attack, knowing they have enough pace and penetration in their side to cause Hoffenheim more than enough problems. It is at the back where Liverpool must remain calm, as they did for large periods throughout their Premier League win at the weekend.
Joel Matip, who joined Jurgen Klopp for his press conference spoke of the importance of tonight’s encounter. “Hoffenheim didn’t play well the first game. We have to stop them. This will be the most important point, but also for my other team-mates, to stop them attack, try to stop them directly, don’t let them have opportunities”. Matip is also looking forward to his first experience of a European night at Anfield. “Liverpool have a long tradition of European nights. I’m looking forward to this. I’m really happy to have the opportunity”. Klopp already knows the atmosphere inside Anfield on European nights, most notably leading the reds to a 4-3 win over his former team Borussia Dortmund, in arguably the greatest European night Anfield has seen. This is what the German Manager had to say. “I’m expecting a football game. The main difference is that now everybody knows the quality of Hoffenheim. A lot of people didn’t expect the quality that they saw. Now it’s half-time, you have to adjust things and change things. The first game was good enough to get a result, the second game needs to be better. Anfield is a main factor. It’s a very special place. Nothing happens by itself, we have to perform. The atmosphere can help. I would be concerned if people thought it would be a weak side. We have a football crowd and they know about the quality and are ready to fight”.
Everything is set, Anfield is primed and ready for its return to Europes big stage, the fans are ready, and we all will be hoping the team is ready, for what is a huge game. If Liverpool win they will find out their fate on Thursday as to what teams they will face in the Group Stages of the competition, but all their focus for now has to be on Nagelsmann’s tricky German side, as they looked to overcome Klopp’s Reds.