Hoffenheim 1 – Liverpool 2: Match Review & Analysis

You can’t win two-legged ties in the first leg, but you can either give yourself a very good chance or else make life extremely difficult before the second ninety minutes even gets underway. That’s why this match felt so very important in the days leading up to it. Having put in such a monumental shift to get the fourth spot at the tail end of last season, we really couldn’t afford to throw away our chance of getting into the Champions League proper before we’d got started. It would not only have undone all of the good work of our last campaign but also put us under immense pressure for the rest of this one.

I’m also firmly of the belief that our transfer work has been paused because players, agents and even selling clubs are waiting to find out if we make it into the group stages of Europe’s premier competition. Is it out of the realms of the possible that Southampton have said to Virgil van Dijk that he can move to us as long as we qualify? You can imagine similar conversations taking place between Naby Keita and the management of RB Leipzig. After all, why would either side agree to sell their players to a team that isn’t definitely in the Champions League yet? We’re only at half-time of the tie, of course, but how did the first-leg pan out? What were the major talking points?

You Need To Take Your Chances At This Level

Prior to kick-off most pundits who knew anything about both teams believed that it would be an open and exciting match. So often at such times you end up watching something quite drab, with both teams ending up being far more cautious than you’d expect. That is especially the case in Europe, when a single goal can make all the difference. Yet we got the game that the experts predicted: end-to-end and full of chances. The reality is that if you want to progress at this level then it’s vital that you take your chances when you’re presented with them. That is applicable to both teams, with Hoffenheim having as many opportunities to score as Liverpool had and not doing as well as they should have with them.

The penalty at the start of the game may well give their manager nightmares. Simon Mignolet did well to save it but let’s be honest, it was a terrible strike. That, combined with numerous headers that they should have scored, and you can see why Hoffenheim might be ruing their missed opportunities. At the other end the Reds had more than their fair share of chances, too. Mohamed Salah looks as though he’s going to take a bit of time to get to full sharpness and he won’t be given a much better opportunity than he was presented with in the first-half. Racing through on goal, I can’t understand why he decided to push the ball to his right rather than his left considering the latter is his stronger foot. He did that on a number of occasions tonight, though doing it when one-on-one with the goalkeeper is an odd choice to say the least.

Firmino

Dejan Lovren, who was poor throughout the match, missed two really good chances from corners. Roberto Firmino also had a chance to score right at the start of the second-half that he’ll be angry he didn’t take. We’re in the big leagues now and on another night we might well have been punished for our profligacy. Equally we could have won three or four nil if our forward players had been more clinical. Instead the tie is on something of a knife-edge and one goal for Hoffenheim at Anfield will see things get very hairy very quickly. That is especially the case considering the way that the Liverpool crowd is feeling right now, ready to rebel against the owners at the first sign of difficulty.

We’re statistically more likely to progress than not, having won all five of our previous ties when we’ve taken a 2-1 result away from the first-leg. That doesn’t mean that it’s a done deal, though. It’s frustrating that we conceded late in the game – again – and Trent Alexander-Arnold will be disappointed that he didn’t play to the whistle. It looked to me like Mignolet and Joel Matip also stopped playing, however, so it’s not as if the youngster is on his own as having made an error. The cut the deficit in half but will be still be extremely worried about needing to score two goals at Anfield on a European night. When they re-watch the highlights they’ll know that they’ll get chances on Merseyside, but will they be able to take them?

It Was Trent’s Night

He didn’t do well enough for the goal but make no mistake – this was Trent Alexander-Arnold’s night. The eighteen-year-old had 72 touches, more than any other Liverpool player. The crucial one came after 35 minutes when he pushed a free-kick outside the post before curling it back in, similar to how Luis Suarez did the same thing against Everton in the 2013-2014 season. It was a stunning set-piece for anyone, let alone a teenager making his debut for the club in European competition. The fact that he probably wouldn’t have been playing if Nathaniel Clyne was at full fitness just adds a certain sweetness to the situation.

The youngster, who once ran out as a club mascot alongside Jamie Carragher, is clearly going to be an unbelievable player. If he continues along his current trajectory then it’s easy to see him captaining the club in the years to come. It’s a massive bonus that he’s also a Scouser, with Liverpool having lacked a local lad since first Carra and then Steven Gerrard decided to hang up their boots. Tonight showed us exactly why he’s held in such high regard by everyone at the club. With the exception of their goal, he defended brilliantly and looked like a really exciting attacking talent going forward. He should have won a free-kick in the second-half after going on a marauding run and also linked up with Salah well at times.

Jürgen Klopp will have been delighted with most parts of Trent’s game; indeed the German referred to him as ‘our little hero’ in his post-match interview. He’ll feel that he can train him and teach him to become a talent as important to the club’s future as both Carragher and Gerrard are to its history. The manager will likely be unhappy with the conundrum the eighteen-year-old has presented him with, however: should Clyne come back into the side? If so, what happens to Alexander-Arnold? Could either of them play left-back? That remains a problem position for the Reds and it would be ideal if Klopp could find a way for one of them to fix it. It seems unlikely, though, as the manager seems determined to do little to fix the issue on that side.

I’ll talk about the defence as a whole in a minute, but it’s interesting that the one position in it that we don’t need to worry about for the foreseeable future is right-back. Trent Alexander-Arnold may well go on to be both Liverpool and England’s first-choice player in that spot for the next fifteen years. Klopp displayed an immense amount of faith in him when he started him at Old Trafford last season and he kept Anthony Martial in his back pocket for the game and you can imagine that he’s only going to get better the more experience he gains. For now we can’t put too much pressure on him and instead just enjoy his development. We may have given away a late goal but tonight is all about the youngster who has helped us to put one foot in the Champions League group stage.

Still Dodgy At The Back

Before the match much was made of Hoffenheim’s danger from set-pieces. Having looked so very dodgy from them when we played Watford last weekend that’s totally understandable, but in the end it took them until the 91st minute to have a shot from one. Still, they could have scored more than a couple of goals tonight and you have to ask why our defence is so intent on giving away so many chances. Is it all about the system, or are the players just not good enough? I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The way we play undoubtedly leaves our defenders exposed, yet it doesn’t help that several of them appear to have no brain. Joel Matip, who I thought was poor against the Hornets in the Premier League at the weekend, was much improved tonight. Two of our other lads, on the other hand, appeared to decide to engage in business as usual.

For two games in a row the opposition has gone down our lefthand side and that’s not a coincidence. Dejan Lovren was all over the place tonight and was bailed out by his goalkeeper, his fellow centre-back and his eighteen-year-old right-back on numerous occasions. The penalty was a sloppy and stupid one to give away, but it was clear from within minutes of kick-off that he was going to have one of those days. He’s certainly not helped by his left-back. I’m on record as not being a big fan of Alberto Moreno and tonight he showed everyone why. It’s not that he’s caught upfield so often – I think that’s managerial instruction – it’s because he regularly lashes himself into tackles that he’s never going to win. If we’re going to have watch him all season then I’m not sure my blood pressure is going to cope. Klopp might want the defence to improve, but if he keeps picking the same terrible players then it’s not going to.

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