1 hour before the game and the nerves are kicking in. Team news are in and Jurgen’s Reds are unchanged from the 3-3 draw with Watford on Saturday. The concerns regarding the defense are obvious.
It kicks in that this tie could be a very important cornerstone in Klopp’s era. It’s a must to get back in Champions League group stages.
The match starts and quite early in the game, the left side of the defense is hugely exposed. Moreno and Lovren are struggling right from the off. The latter gives away 2 half penalties in the opening 11 minutes and the 2nd one is given. You have to fear the worst. But the worst is not happening because big Si is having none of it. A very poor penalty from Kramaric but amazing anticipation from Mignolet not to jump early. Very good save.
The positives are starting to be more notable as well, the right side of defense is very solid, Joel Matip and Trent Alexander Arnold, who is having his Champions League debut, are absolutely bossing it. Mo Salah gets gifted a ball about 50 yards from the goal and he’s one at one with the keeper. Woeful finishing. No excuses not to bury it.
Alberto Moreno through all his poor defending is providing a great outlet on the left wing when going forward. And then it’s him, it’s Sadio. Absolutely terrorising Bicakcic again and again. Pops in the midfield, takes the Hoffenheim defense on, gets a free kick and a yellow for Bicakcic. Trent Alexander steps up and takes one of the most brilliant free kicks i’ve seen in the last few years to put Liverpool in the lead. At 18 years. His first ever competitive goal for Liverpool. Absolutely buzzing for him.
The Reds miss another opportunity before half time and it’s 1-0 to the Liverpool. We come back with the same convinction in the 2nd half despite Hoffenheim having a correctly disallowed goal.
Sadio Mane is unplayable again and again, serves a ball on the platter for Bobby Firmino and it should have been 2-0 but Bobby doesn’t manage to beat the keeper.
On 63rd minute Hoffenheim misses a decent opportunity after the Reds are switching off at a free kick but Liverpool are quickly regaining the control of the game. Mo Salah is denied another opportunity in the 69th minute while Dejan Lovren header is saved as well from the resulting corner.
On 74th minute, Sadio Mane gains another free kick that Gini Wijnaldum plays in quick. Bobby Firmino cleverly finds James Milner on the left wing. His cross is deflected by Nordtveit and it’s in. Nothing the Hoffenheim keeper could do about it. 2-0 Liverpool.
It’s all Liverpool and it’s all sort of mad at this point as Moreno seems to have moved in the opposing box. Hard not to love him when things are going well to be honest.
The traveling Kop are in full voice, „ Bring on yer Internazionale” can be loudly heard before a timely rendition of „Show them the way to go home” .
Meanwhile on the pitch Simon Mignolet does brilliantly to deny a scoring chance for Amiri in the 81st minute. Bobby Firmino comes off and gets a standing ovation from both home and away end as the teenage sensation Dom Solanke gets his competitive debut for Liverpool.
87th minute comes and.. it’s never straight forward with the Reds, is it ? Mark Uth gets delivered a ball in between Joel Matip and Trent Alexander Arnold, takes it down brilliantly and blasts it past Mignolet. Great finish. Hoffenheim 1 and Liverpool 2.
Final substitution for the Reds as Marko Grujic replaces Sadio Mane and the complexion of the game changed dramatically after we conceded the goal. Hoffenheim are pushing for a late equaliser while the board comes up showing 4 added minutes. Absolutely crucial for the Reds to show resilience here. Grujic concedes a free kick and once again poor defending for the Reds. Huge relief as Hubner’s header goes over the post. The final chance of the game belongs to Liverpool after another Mo Salah’s run that ends with Marko Grujic having his strike saved by the keeper.
The final whistle is being blown and it’s Hoffenheim 1 and Liverpool 2. The Reds done themselves proud and managed a great result away from home but they will be frustrated by conceding a late goal. The return leg will be played at Anfield in 8 days time and a similar performance would definitely see us back in Uefa Champions League Group stages.
Here are the player ratings from a crucial away win in the Champions League Play Offs for the Reds :
Simon Mignolet 9/10 – Perhaps a tie deciding penalty save and couple decent saves .Nothing he could do for the goal. Made up for him. More of this please, big SI
Trent Alexander Arnold 10/10 – Trent Alexander Arnold is a Scouser, Trent Alexander Arnold is a Red
Joel Matip 8/10 – Much better than in the weekend and determined to prove the Watford game was just a bad day at the office. Solid. Perhaps at fault for their goal, need to rewatch that.
Dejan Lovren 5/10 – The weak link in the defense once again. To his credit we haven’t conceded because of him but he’s been beaten and made desperate challenges more than once. Gave away a ( soft ) penalty too.
Alberto Moreno 6/10 – Seemed quite obvious Hoffenheim knew about his defending ability, or lack of it should i say. Tried to take advantage of it but after a poor start of the game, got a bit better. Good going forward.
Jordan Henderson 6/10 – Didn’t manage to shift the direction of play and dictate the tempo as much as he would have wanted, but he organised the midfield and wasn’t at fault for much before being subbed off for James Milner
Emre Can 7.5/10 – The bright spot in the midfield. Tried his best to make things happen, less mistakes than against Watford. Good to see the German up to speed again.
Gini Wijnaldum 6/10 – Quietly effective. Expecting more from him though.
Sadio Mane 9.5/10 – Switched off at a Hoffenheim free kick in the 63rd minute that could have costed us so losing half a point. Absolutely unplayable once again. Seems a different kind of beast compared to last season. Popping everywhere and making things happen. Pretty sure Bicakcic will have nightmares tonight because of him.
Bobby Firmino 7.5/10 – Clever movement , starting the pressing at the right times, proving himself to be a valuable member of the front three. Not involved as much as he would have liked in the 1st half and missed a huge opportunity to score a goal in the 2nd. Plays a wonderful ball for Milner’s deflected goal.
Mo Salah 5/10 – His natural ability is unreal. Could be an amazing player for us this season. If only he would improve his finishing. .His conversion rate is a concern and was a concern today. Should have scored.
James Milner 7.5/10 – Came on for Henderson and his deflected cross resulted in Liverpool’s 2nd goal. Decent display overall.
Dom Solanke N/A – Great to see him getting his competitive debut. More to come from the youngster.
Marko Grujic N/A – Loves a strike, Marko. Despite only coming on in the 88th minute, he had a good scoring chance and looked ready to go. Conceded a free kick in a dangerous area.
This article was written by Robert. Follow him on Twitter – @Robert_Nastase