The Hard Tackle takes a look at five talking points following Liverpool’s 2-1 win over Hoffenheim in the first leg of their Champions League play-off tie.
Liverpool staged a solid 2-1 victory over Bundesliga side Hoffenheim in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off clash. The two goals for the Reds came from Trent Alexander-Arnold and a seemingly lucky strike from James Milner, which was later ruled as an own goal for Havard Nordtveit.
The German side will have to travel to Anfield, hungry for revenge, which will set the spectators up for a scintillating second leg. While that will be a must-win situation for Hoffenheim, Liverpool are likely to be a bit more relaxed, with one foot in the group stage.
Jurgen Klopp’s side looked convincing enough when it came to their attacking plays, but the defence looked shoddy at certain points. As usual, the side suffered when it came to set-piece situations – a problem that Klopp will have to seek a solution for immediately. Besides that, here are five of the major talking points from the match:
Sadio Mane – the sole shining star up front
Liverpool’s attack would have hardly made any sort of impact if Sadio Mane was not a part of the front three. While Roberto Firmino seemed unusually quiet on his return to Hoffenheim, Mohamed Salah too failed to impress, although he did have a couple of good chances. That was when Mane assumed the responsibility and wreaked havoc on the field.
The 25-year-old looked lethal at times as he tormented Hoffenheim’s defenders with his blistering pace, direct running and skills with the ball. In fact, he won the free-kick for the opening goal with a burst through the middle that forced Ermin Bicakcic to bring him down.
The Senegalese winger caused several problems for the opposition on the left as he darted past players with ease. Ideally, Mane should have registered another assist as he set up for Firmino for a shot. Although Mane was a big miss for Liverpool due to his injury last season, it looks like he will be a key player this time around – much to Klopp’s delight.
Trent Alexander-Arnold proves his worth
The Scouse youngster just keeps getting better with time. Liverpool could have potentially struggled had he not scored the first goal. Alexander-Arnold defended well and ventured down the wing, while providing support for his teammates. With Nathaniel Clyne out injured, the 18-year-old has seized several opportunities and proven his quality.
Against Hoffenheim he looked confident, composed and showed excellent decision-making to surge ahead at the right times to support the attack. He kept Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric in check and capped off a fine display with his first goal for the club – shooting in a brilliant, curling free-kick from 30 yards to hand the Reds the lead.
While he was fantastic in every sense, perhaps the only downer was when he allowed Mark Uth to get goal-side to score a late goal for the hosts while he was trying to appeal for offside. That will be a tough lesson for the youngster. Besides that though, Alexander-Arnold was full of promise once again.
Liverpool’s defensive woes are going nowhere
Liverpool’s defence under Jurgen Klopp has come under the scanner several times, and this season appears to be no different. The fact that their defence was so easily troubled only goes to show how important it is for Klopp to either make changes or bring in reinforcements.
The defence was so susceptible that it was surprising that Nagelsmann’s troops were not 1-0 up in the early exchanges when Dejan Lovren fouled Serge Gnabry in the box. Had Andrej Kramaric managed to take that chance and score the goal, the Reds would have been in great trouble.
It was the unusually rash nature of Lovren’s challenge, coupled with his weak presence that should be a grave concern for Klopp. The Merseyside club are vulnerable when it comes to defending, particularly in set-piece situations making it all the more imperative for Klopp to address the problems.
Jordan Henderson continues to struggle
The Liverpool captain has been anything but convincing in terms of his performances in the first two matches. He struggled to impose himself against Watford and similar problems ensued while playing Hoffenheim as well, following which, James Milner replaced him right after the hour mark.
While that could have been an indication that he’s still showing some effects of the injuries that he’s suffered recently, there were signs of a massive decline in his performances throughout the game. Henderson hasn’t been his usual fiery self for one reason or another, and that could be yet another concern for Klopp ahead of a season that promises to be quite demanding.
Apart from a couple of good sprayed balls out wide, his passes were sloppy and poorly chosen. It almost felt like he was trying hard to do well but all his attempts ended up being futile. Additonally, he was hardly ever present to cover for the attacking full-backs, thus making it seem like he might have to sit out a couple of games until he recovers fully.
Simon Mignolet is the saviour once again
The Liverpool goalkeeper has received his fair share of criticism throughout his time at Anfield, but he played a crucial role in securing the first-leg lead on Tuesday. The Belgian did well to keep out Kramaric’s tame penalty, which made it his his seventh save from 20 penalties at Liverpool.
In addition to that, he also made several other key stops. Considering the poor defence in front of Mignolet, it seems surprising that Hoffenheim were restricted to scoring just once – a feat that can only be largely attributed to the shot stopper’s work in front of the goal.
He rushed out sharply to deny Serge Gnabry late in the first half and saved well from Nadiem Amiri later in the game as Liverpool ensured they took an advantage to Anfield for the second leg. If Mignolet can consistently produce such performances, the Reds will have some sort of consolation as far as their defensive problems are concerned.