Champions League football returns to our screens this week and Liverpool fans that were excited for a return to Europe’s elite competition may want to look away now, as their final hurdle to the group stages will be difficult to overcome.
Hoffenheim were one of the surprise packages in the Bundesliga last season and the club’s venture into Europe caps-off a dramatic rise for the German club, who were remarkably playing in the fifth-tier of German football at the turn of the millennia.
This isn’t your standard fairy tale story, though, as there’s every chance Hoffenheim are here to stay, as they have the financial strength and the ability on the field to compete – despite losing key-players Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy to Bayern Munich in the summer.
Hoffenheim are not overachieving, they’re instead taking the first steps towards becoming a European regular and Liverpool fans hoping for an easy game will not be granted such luck- especially as the fourth-placed Bundesliga side last term are somewhat masters of a set-piece.
Liverpool concede 2 goals from set pieces. Good preparation for playing Hoffenheim who scored most set piece goals in Bundesliga last year..
— Kop Data (@KopData) August 12, 2017
Liverpool, as everyone knows, are woeful at defending from dead-ball situations and their problems were exploited once again at the weekend by Watford, as the Hornets were aided in a 3-3 draw by the Reds’ decision to not doing any sort of marking.
If they adopt a similar approach over two-legs against Hoffenheim it could certainly be their downfall, as Julian Nagelsmann’s side scored 16 times from set-pieces in the Bundesliga last season; a tally no-one can better and one that was equal with champions Bayern Munich.
Comparisons between Nagelsmann and Jurgen Klopp are certain to be made around the match as Hoffenheim’s 30-year-old manager has followed his compatriot’s trend in the Bundesliga, making a name for himself in Germany by leading a club to success.
Klopp will be proving he hasn’t peaked though, with things certainly not easy for him during his spell with Liverpool, whilst Nagelsmann will be aiming to continue a rise that could be very successful over the course of the coming years- and defeating his compatriot would add a further feather to his cap.
— OptaFranz (@OptaFranz) August 4, 2017
Familiar faces will be the danger-men to watch out for in Hoffenheim’s ranks this season as former Leicester City striker Andrej Kramaric was their top-scorer last season with 18 goals, whilst former Arsenal man Serge Gnabry is spending the season on-loan with the club after moving to Bayern Munich from Werder Bremen this summer.
Creative outlet Kerem Demirbay will keep Liverpool busy but it’s Nagelsmann’s tactical wizardly and Hoffenheim’s ability from set-pieces that could prove to be Liverpool’s downfall over the course of the two-legged affair, as well as the fact that the village club will be encouraged by a trip to Anfield next week- something the fans will have only dreamed about 17 years ago.
Without star-man Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool will look to wing-wizards Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane to provide an impact, whilst pressure will be on former Hoffenheim man Roberto Firmino in the middle. For Klopp’s men though, this is a battle that may well be won from a defensive aspect and focusing on shutting the German side out should be their priority.