Liverpool face Hoffenheim in tomorrow’s first leg Champions League play-off.
The Reds have returned to Germany once again, this time to face TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, as a result of the fourth place finish in the Premier League last season.
Following the unappealing start to the Premier League campaign for Liverpool against Watford on Saturday, hopes are not high for the away leg of the play-offs. Liverpool came from behind and led until the final minute where Watford found an equaliser.
The weekend’s game highlighted Liverpool’s vulnerability against set-pieces and the shambles in defence, something that needs to urgently be addressed as the Reds are up against a side with a brilliant record of scoring from dead-ball situations. Of course, this isn’t something that can be solved overnight but with just over two weeks left of the transfer window and Virgil van Dijk wanting to leave Southampton, we could have a solution.
Hoffenheim also finished fourth in the Bundesliga, behind Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund and will be European debutants. They are led by the Bundesliga’s youngest head coach, Julian Nagelsmann, who inspired a relegation-battling team to becoming European competitors.
They will be tough opponents for Liverpool as they had only lost four games in the Bundesliga last season, all of them were away from home. They picked up four points against champions Bayern Munich and a point each against Leipzig and Dortmund.
The German side have only lost one of their starting XI players, Niklas Sule who moved to Bayern Munich, and have brought in six new players including Bayern’s Serge Gnabry on loan, in addition to returning loanees.
Jürgen Klopp has had a lot to worry about before the season even began with injuries left, right and centre. Adam Lallana is ruled out for up to four months with a thigh injury, Philippe Coutinho’s future at Liverpool remains an uncertainty after a perfectly timed ‘back injury’ has him ruled out of the squad for the play-offs and his transfer request was rejected. Daniel Sturridge is still out of the squad as is Nathaniel Clyne.
Nagelsmann’s side are lucky that their second-highest scorer has fully recovered from a minor injury he picked up in a friendly against Bologna and the squad will be at full-strength and ready to start their European debut with a bang.
The two legs are vital for Liverpool as if they lose they will descend to the Europa League group stages. An away goal or two will ensure an easier home leg, with the roar of the Spion Kop to inspire the team. At the moment, it seems that anyone can get past Liverpool’s crumbling defence, especially with set-pieces, but it is such a high-stake game for Liverpool. It’s now or never for Klopp.
I am predicting Hoffenheim 1-2 Liverpool. It won’t be easy but the attack is brilliant and they could seal the deal for the Reds.
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