Hoffenheim 1 - 2 Liverpool: as it happened, goals, match report
Liverpool will take a one goal advantage to Anfield as the hunt continues for a place in the Champions League group stages. Andrej Kramaric missed an early penalty for Hoffenheim, before 18-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold swept Liverpool ahead with a sensational free-kick. A Nordtveit own goal double the visitors’ lead, but Uth took advantage of slap-dash defending to pull a goal back.
It was a case of master versus pupil. The analytical mind of Julian Nagelsmann, the 30-year-old Hoffenheim coach, was spotted by Thomas Tuchel, Jürgen Klopp’s assistant at Borussia Dortmund. So tracing the family tree of the gegenpress, the match unfolded above a sub-plot of a meeting between grandfather and grandson. It was enthralling from the off.
Hoffenheim began with frenetic energy. The team from a village of 3000 made it to the Bundesliga in 2008, and continued their upward trajectory in their Champions League bow. After ten minutes, Serge Gnabry twisted, turned, and dizzied Dejan Lovren in the box. The Croatian flailed a desperate leg, Gnabry collapsed, and the referee put his whistle to his lips to signal a penalty. Andrej Kramaric stood over the spot, exhaled, and dragged an anaemic effort to Simon Mignolet’s left. It was at the perfect height for the ‘keeper, who parried the ball clear.
An attritional spell ensued. The two tactical systems prodded and probed each other until Mo Salah broke the line. The Egyptian seized upon a loose pass, and with the Hoffenheim back-three pressing high in to the Liverpool half, he had a clear run at goal. Perhaps the run granted Salah a little more time than he would have liked, as when it came to the finish, he was hesitant. The ball skidded wide.
Salah and Mane, Liverpool’s incisive wingers, sporadically threatened. On 35 minutes, Mane fashioned space for himself and burst inside. The Senegalese winger has a remarkable ability to accelerate away from the attention of defenders, like an enraging, unswatable fly. Bicakcic brought him to an abrupt stop 30 yards from goal, but gave away a foul and entered the book in the process.
Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool’s 18-year-old full back, was not an obvious candidate to take the free-kick from the crowd of players who stood around the dead ball. Yet as the others dispersed, he remained, eyeing up the goal with a furrowed brow. His swirling shot skimmed over the top of the wall, and settled in the bottom corner. Oliver Baumann didn’t even bother to dive.
The home side continued to threaten. Their movement was too fluid for Liverpool to follow at times. Just before half time, Sandro Wagner grazed the outside of the post. Nagelsmann hurled a plastic bottle at the wall of his dugout. The fine margins were in Liverpool’s favour.
The game opened up in the second half as lactic acid levels rose. Both sides deployed an intense, high-pressure game, and sloppiness crept in. The fresh legs of James Milner proved to be an outlet for Liverpool. A quick Wijnaldum free-kick found its way to the former-Manchester City man on the left wing. He looked up, and clipped a ball towards Salah at the back post. It did not find its target. Instead, a deflection off Havard Nordtveit spun the ball in to the top corner.
Liverpool looked well on their way to inflicting a first home defeat on Hoffenheim since May 2016. But with the Bundesliga side on the ropes, Liverpool’s absent-minded defending once again reared its head. With three minutes remaining, Nordtveit launched a speculative long ball towards Mark Uth. Between them, Matip and Alexander-Arnold should have cleared with ease. Yet they were preoccupied with appealing for offside, and Uth snuck in to striker a fierce low drive in to the bottom corner.
Liverpool return to England with two ever-important away goals, but amid a cloud of persistent problems. Klopp’s defence remains porous, and as such, the tie remains open.