Liverpool signalled their long-awaited return to the European Elite last night, as they beat Hoffenheim 2-1 at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena to kick off their Champions League qualifying campaign in fine style. The tremendous result sees the Reds take home a one goal advantage as they prepare for the reverse fixture at Anfield on Wednesday 23rd August.
It was the Liverpool youngster, Trent Alexander-Arnold, who stole the show for the visitors, with the rookie full-back producing a sublime set-piece effort that soared beyond the reach of keeper, Oliver Baumann. The England Under-19 international showed maturity beyond his years as he stepped up to the mark in the 35th minute, striking the ball from more than 30 yards to give Jurgen Klopp’s side a well-earned lead.
James Milner added to the account in the second half, after he exploited a gaping space on the left to fire home a bullet into the top corner via a wicked deflection off the chest of Havard Nordtveit.
The visitors were firmly in control by this point, but their inherent defensive frailties almost came back to haunt them late on, as an unchallenged Mark Uth fired into the net in the 87th minute following a lofted ball into the box.
It was job done as far as the travelling Reds were concerned but it could have been far worse for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
The German hosts had in fact starterd the brighter of the two sides, and were presented with a terrific early chance to take the lead in the 11th minute when Serge Gnabry buckled under a challenge from Dejan Lovren in the box. Former Leicester City forward, Andrej Kramaric stepped up to take the spot kick, but the Croatian’s tame effort was easily parried by a grateful Simon Mignolet.
From then, the Reds grasped the initiative, with efforts from Mohammed Salah and Roberto Firmino almost rubbing salt in the wounds shortly after the disastrous spot kick.
The two teams had looked to play heavily on the front foot, with both sides being culpable of spurning several gilt-edged chances. The deadlock was eventually broken when Alexander-Arnold’s thundering effort glided past keeper Baumann, with the 18 year old defining the feeling as ‘indescribable’.
Hoffenheim came dangerously close to levelling as Gnabry’s effort was saved once again by the industrious Mignolet, before Sandro Wagner’s venomous strike crashed off the post. But Liverpool almost doubled the lead on the eve of half time, after Dejan Lovren narrowly missed the target with a close range header.
It was then Firmino’s chance to test the resolve of his former employers. The Brazilian, whose move from Hoffenheim to Anfield was completed in 2015, had a fabulous close range effort saved by former compatriot, Baumann, before the German then had to block a fizzing effort from the lively Sadio Mane.
The pressure proved too much for the hosts though, as James Milner’s storming run and fine cross saw the ball rocket into the net after an unfortunate ricochet off Nordtveit’s chest. Hoffenheim halved the deficit in the closing stages before Benjamin Hubner wasted a perfect chance to equalise after heading over the bar in injury time.
Man of the Match – Trent Alexander-Arnold
The promising right-back certainly grabbed the headlines with his audacious long- range finish. Having only started nine times for Liverpool in all competitions, the England Under-19 International did not let his lack of senior experience hamper his performance by any means. His confidence and composure was clear for all to see, and he provided a dynamic attacking option down the right flank when needed.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 15, 2017
Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp was happy with his side’s result and looks forward to the reverse fixture at Anfield. The Reds’ boss spoke to BT Sport:
“Hoffenheim had a specific plan to play. We gambled a little too much on the wing, it was a little dangerous in the first half, but as always when we play football, we found spaces in-between and created wonderful chances.
“The result is OK. The first half is done and if you said before the game we would win, I would take the result.
“We need Anfield, what an intense game for both sides. I am looking forward to a European night at Anfield. Only the person who does not know about Hoffenheim can be surprised by this.”
All in all, a fantastic start for Liverpool as they begin to joust once again with Europe’s elite sides. The home fixture will certainly be the one to savour!
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Jurgen Klopp interview quote taken from BT Sport