Liverpool defeated TSG 1899 Hoffenheim 2-1 in the first leg of the Champions League play in match. The winner will advance to the Champions League group stage.
The Telegraph Sam Wallace wrote:” As a Liverpool prodigy from his early years, Trent Alexander-Arnold grew up at the club in the days that Steven Gerrard would rescue a European night with a swipe of his right boot, so when it came to doing it himself, the 18-year-old at least knew what a great goal should look like.
That he could do it himself, with Liverpool’s backs to the wall in the first leg of this Champions League qualifier, says a great deal about the quality of a teenager whom Gerrard himself has picked out for greatness. Alexander-Arnold will also know that the club do not always make things easy for themselves and although they left Germany with a victory, it could have been so much better were it not for substitute Mark Uth’s late goal.
Jurgen Klopp said later he would have taken a win before the game on any terms, “even 8-7”, especially against a Hoffenheim team that had not lost at home all last season. But it would also be fair to say that Liverpool were confronted with enough of their own weaknesses over the course of one first leg that they cannot take for granted their place among the Champions League group stages at Anfield next Wednesday.
This first leg belonged in part to Alexander-Arnold who scored a fine right-footed free-kick before the break, his first goal for the club and coming in the teeth of a fine Hoffenheim performance which had seen them dominate the first half. Over the course of the evening, Jamie Carragher tweeted a picture of him captaining Liverpool on a day when Alexander-Arnold was mascot alongside him, the baton passed from one local boy to another, although Carragher never got to take any free-kicks.
Yet Alexander-Arnold was also there with his hand in the air when Uth scored the goal, an appeal that Klopp had to concede was misguided and there were times when his defence, under some pressure, was chaotic. Klopp said that they permitted Hoffenheim to have much of the possession with the proviso that they would defend when it came into the dangerous areas.
When the substitute James Milner helped put Liverpool two goals ahead with a cross that was deflected in by Hoffenheim defender Havard Nordtveit it looked like this Champions League qualifier was over, a story of the home team’s profligacy and Liverpool’s capacity to take their chances, but it remains alive when the Germans come to Anfield next Wednesday.
This Hoffenheim team led by their 30-year-old coach Julian Nagelsmann are impressive and if they had taken half their chances then they would have departed for Merseyside next week leading this tie. Instead they missed a penalty, hit the post and generally squandered so much of the patient and intelligent build up play of a first half which they dominated in many aspects right up to Benjamin Hubner planting a header over the bar with seconds left.
Afterwards, Klopp and Nagelsmann were interviewed side-by-side in the studio of German broadcaster ZDF, and while they share the same agent there was a spikiness to the younger man’s response to his opposite number’s game plan. Asked about Klopp’s assertion that Liverpool let their opponents have the ball at times, Nagelsmann said, “Well he would say that, he has to defend his team, he won’t say ‘Hoffenheim played so well and we were s***’.”
As for Liverpool, Sadio Mane, their irrepressible attacking talent on the left wing was superb, winning the free-kicks that led to both goals. His first half marker Ermin Bicakcic was taken off well before the hour with a bad case of twisted blood and you were left wondering what Mane will do when he is fully fit.
There is an echo in this Hoffenheim team of what you imagine Klopp would like Liverpool to be, and in the first half there was no question that the home team were superior but they missed every chance that came their way.
That included an 11th minute penalty hit by the former Leicester City man Andrej Kramaric, a limp waist-high effort slightly to the left of Simon Mignolet that the goalkeeper pushed away easily. At that point of the game, Klopp’s team looked all at sea, unsure whether to press Hoffenheim’s possession game and unable to cope with the speed of their passing through the middle.
It told you all you needed to know about Liverpool’s shape – and Alberto Moreno’s positional play – that the left-back was closing down goalkeeper Oliver Baumann when he cleared the ball upfield for the move that led to the penalty. Hoffenheim came down the left side of Liverpool’s defence with Moreno absent and then a poor challenge from Dejan Lovren on Serge Gnabry, formerly of Arsenal, now on loan from Bayern Munich conceded the spot-kick.
Mohamad Salah went clean through on 15 minutes on the end of Roberto Firmino’s pass although the Egyptian never really got into his blistering stride and he was one step from being caught by Kevin Vogt, the Hoffenheim captain, before he launched an unconvincing shot wide.
Vogt was outstanding for his team, the playmaker in the middle of the back three and, as a former midfielder, extremely composed on the ball. He and Hubner directed the attacks left and then right and once they worked the ball into the middle the likes of Kerem Demirbay and Lukas Rupp were sharp enough to move it quickly under pressure.
Bicakcic, the Bosnian right-sided centre-half, brought down Mane after he twisted past three tackles on 34 minutes. Alexander-Arnold looked like the decoy for Emre Can until the 18-year-old stepped up himself and slotted a right foot shot into the far corner.
By the end of first half, Nagelsmann had his team locking Liverpool up in their own half with a full press that put the pressure on Klopp’s team’s passing. Yet the relentlessness of their approach had to yield at some point and by the midway point of the second half it slipped.
Klopp said he wanted to give Henderson a breather after a tough pre-season back from injury and Milner, his replacement, had a notable effect. His cross went in with the help of a major deflection off the chest of substitute Nordveit, the Norwegian formerly of West Ham. Mane won a free-kick that was taken quickly and went out from Firmino to Milner on the left. It was a cross to the back post but the contact with Nordveit took it past the goalkeeper Baumann.
Then came the late push from Hoffenheim and Uth’s well-taken strike while Alexander-Arnold appealed for offside, which was one moment of exuberant youthful optimism that Liverpool could have done without.”