Liverpool are one step away from the Champions League group stages, as they take a 2-1 lead into the second-leg of their playoff with Hoffenheim at Anfield.
Liverpool (2) vs. (1) Hoffenheim
Wednesday, August 23, 2017 — 7.45pm (BST)
Champions League playoff, second leg
In terms of the Reds’ season, and possibly even their long-term future, the importance of Wednesday’s clash cannot be underestimated.
Failure to reach the next stage of the Champions League would be a body blow, especially following last week’s 2-1 win in Germany.
Julian Nagelsmann’s side will be no pushover in the return fixture on Merseyside, with Mark Uth’s late goal in the first-leg keeping the tie very much alive.
Liverpool are strong favourites to progress, however, with Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace a crucial first Premier League win of the campaign.
Changes were made by Jurgen Klopp, ensuring a freshness within the squad, and tomorrow’s chosen individuals just need to get through 90 more minutes in order to achieve their goal.
This is a Reds side that has the potential to thrive in Europe’s greatest club competition – having to see them in the Europa League again in 2017/18 does not bear thinking about.
A ferocious Anfield atmosphere is needed – Nagelsmann and some of his players’ comments should have riled up Liverpool’s supporters somewhat – on what we hope is a special night.
Last meeting: Hoffenheim 1-2 Liverpool
Philippe Coutinho is still unavailable, although Barcelona dropping their interest in the Brazilian bodes well for Liverpool moving forward.
Klopp said in his pre-match press conference that Coutinho was now “ill” – whether that is believable is certainly up for debate.
Adam Lallana is still out, and will be until close to Christmas, while Nathaniel Clyne is also still absent with a back problem.
There are no other injury worries for Klopp, and his biggest task will be selecting his personnel for the game.
It is a toss-up as to who starts at right-back out of Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez, while Ragnar Klavan‘s steady performance against Palace could tempt the manager to start him ahead of Dejan Lovren.
Andrew Robertson enjoyed a superb debut, and could well keep his place at left-back, with Alberto Moreno waiting in the wings.
The midfield and attack is likely to pick itself, although Gini Wijnaldum‘s iffy form and heavy workload of late could see him miss out. Emre Can will likely return.
Nagelsmann has no injuries whatsoever, so he will be able to call upon his strongest possible starting lineup.
Last Tuesday’s clash at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena was an entertaining contest throughout, but Liverpool came through it in nervy fashion.
It was a special night for Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose stunning free-kick opened the scoring on his European debut, further highlighting what a great talent he is.
Prior to that, Simon Mignolet had saved Andrej Kramaric’s penalty – just how crucial could that be come the end of the tie?
Havard Nordtveit’s second-half own goal was a fortunate moment for the Reds, with James Milner‘s attempted cross taking a nick off the Hoffenheim defender and into the net.
In typical Liverpool fashion, however, they didn’t make it easy for themselves, and Uth pulled a goal back for his side late on.
It’s all to play for at Anfield.
Liverpool – Last five results (all competitions)
Won 1-0 vs. Crystal Palace
Won 2-1 vs. Hoffenheim
Drew 3-3 vs. Watford
Won 3-1 vs. Athletic Bilbao
Drew 1-1 vs. Atletico Madrid (lost 5-4 on penalties)
Hoffenheim – Last five results (all competitions)
Won 1-0 vs. Werder Bremen
Lost 2-1 vs. Liverpool
Won 1-0 vs. Erfurt
Won 3-0 vs. Bologna
Won 2-1 vs. Derby County
Klopp stressed the importance of not taking Hoffenheim lightly, and admitted he left practicing for a potential penalty shootout up to his players:
“In football it’s always important to have respect for the qualities of the opponent. Next you need to deal with them,” Klopp said.
“We have a plan. We need to be very calm. They have players who are good enough and offensive and I respect that.
“I did not make them practice penalties but I allow them to practice penalties after training if they want.”
TV & Live Blog Info
Wednesday’s match is live on BT Sport 2 from 7pm, with kick-off at 7:45pm. Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard will be in the studio on a tense night.
Our matchday live blog will also go live at 7pm, with Ben Twelves in charge of (hopefully) talking you through a Reds victory.