When Trent-Alexander Arnold’s superb freekick completely deceived goalkeeper Oliver Baumann, it was an irksome moment for Hoffenheim coach Julian Nagelsmann (inb4 the internet warriors started to tweet “best talent in England bs). Havard Nordtveit’s own goal was even more gruesome for Hoffe fans, not only because it handed Liverpool an invaluable second away goal but was also scored in a rather lucky manner. So much,so, in fact, that coach Nagelsmann chose to comment on ‘James Milner’s goal’ at the press conference, saying; “The second goal he [Milner] celebrated for a good shot but it was deflected. He actually wanted to cross the ball and it unluckily turned into a goal”
The draw always promised some (well, a lot, in fact) drama, sensation, ferocity and possibly, a bit of savagery.
Make no mistake, when Liverpool collide with Hoffenheim for the second leg clash at Anfield this Wednesday, it will be much more than just a football game. Not only because of their rather analogous tactical philosophies but also because of the personalities of LFC coach Jurgen Klopp and Nagelsmann, which layers the match with a certain extra amount of flair and purpose.
But it appears that both the teams have been befuddled with a series of issues ahead of their clash in midweek, despite Liverpool having the upper-hand in the tie.
While Liverpool’s first leg advantage may look imposing, the ground reality is totally different.
The Reds were – mediocre, in their weekend ‘win’ over Crystal Palace.
Klopp chose to avoid unnecessary risk and rested many of his key players for the upcoming games against Hoffenheim. along with the important Arsenal fixture on the weekend.
With that, many fans censured Klopp and the board for the mediocrity of the reserve team and the fact that the club relies too much on its first team players – this was entirely evident when the Reds faced a sturdy Crystal Palace and were totally uninspiring in the offensive department.
Many feel the board hasn’t done enough to deepen the squad with the team having to deal with three different competitions this season.
The services of Sadio Mane, by far Liverpool’s strongest attacking asset, were needed to get Liverpool over the line against the Glaziers. The Senegalese international will play five games in fifteen days, which might result in early tired legs Wednesday against TSG.
Mohamed Salah was another key player rested against Palace but only for an hour. The Egyptian had to come on given Liverpool’s impotent attack. And to say that the move didn’t pay-off would be a falsehood, yet, it further emphasizes Liverpool’s struggles without their first teamers.
The only encouraging display in the hard-fought win on the weekend was that of Andrew Robertson. The Scot was by far, Liverpool’s most instrumental player throughout the game. He moved up and down the pitch, got to the byline, provided crosses, and was, overall, very influential.
For long enough, Liverpool fans have pledged for an upgrade to Alberto Moreno in the left back position, and Robertson’s impressive performance might earn him a place in the starting lineupWednesday.
Predicted Lineups: Simon Mignolet; Trent-Alexander Arnold, Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren, Andrew Robertson; Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, Emre Can; Mohammed Salah, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane.
Let’s talk about some Hoffenheim now shall we?
Nagelsmann has not been shy of hitting out Klopp and LFC after the match, disputing the statement that Kloppo’s boys ‘allowed’ Hoffenheim to keep the ball in some positional situations. That said, the young German coach has his own issues to deal with from Hoffenheim’s narrow in over Werder Bremen.
Hoffenheim faced some problems in making use of their created chances against Werder Bremen on the weekend. TSG attempted 20 key passes, out of which only six were successful. The poor 30% accuracy aside, their overall key passes attempts were fifth best league wide on the opening matchday – this was possible thanks to their superior possession play. Nagelsmann’s tactics can be seem as a direct version of Pep Guardiola’s Juego de Posicion but on the weekend, not only did the Kraichgauer pass the ball more often than any other team (588) but also attained the highest accuracy with 89%. Therefore, we can expect Hoffenheim to dominate the possession against Liverpool in midweek. Like, really!
It would be foolish to deny Klopp’s point on letting TSG have more of the ball in certain positions of the field. Without Sebastian Rudy, the team lacks the presence of a midfield catalyst who can sort out their possession time to time.
Nagelsmann tried to address this problem against Bremen by starting Dennis Geiger, a Hoffenheim youth product, who was promoted to the first at the start of last season.
The results haven’t been bad either, as Geiger, to some extent, managed to facilitate the team’s positional game. The 19-year-old, made 69 passes (13th) and received 61 passes (11th) against Werder.
The shape looked much better on the weekend compared to the Liverpool match, where a lack of a holding midfielder made it difficult for the home side to facilitate possession with ease, especially in tight spaces in central midfield.
But the question remains, should Nagelsmann risk playing Geiger in such a high-profile game?
The onus will still be on Kevin Vogt to bring assurance into their possession game. Vogt, who made more passes than anyone else (96) in the first matchday, was a focal point of Hoffenheim’s possession game vs Werder.
Kerem Demirbay and Serge Gnabry can be expected to start higher up the field if Nagelsmann opts for starting Geiger. Otherwise, the former will have to play a lot deeper role in midfield, with the absence of a proper number six, just like he did in the first leg. Gnabry on the other hand, plays a particular role in TSG’s offensive game. He is freed to roam across the final third, with his pace and dribbling abilities. He will be tasked to feed Andrej Kramaric and Sandro Wagner upfront.
All is not lost for Hoffenheim, who, despite conceding two valuable away goals in the first leg, still stand a chance of going through. Defender Kevin Vogt seemed confident of his side’s credibility of overtaking Liverpool’s lead in the second leg.
“It’s beyond debate that we’re capable of scoring two or more goals.
“We’ll take to the pitch with a lot of self-confidence and throw everything in so we can win there.” – he said, as per ESPN.
Predicted Lineup: Oliver Baumann; Pavel Kaderabek, Havard Nordtveit, Kevin Vogt, Benjamin Hubner, Steven Zuber; Dennis Geiger; Kerem Demirbay, Serge Gnabry; Sandro Wagner, Andrej Kramaric.
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