Liverpool have a difficult task ahead of them in the first leg of their Champions League qualifier against Bundesliga side Hoffenheim on Tuesday (19:45 BST, live on BT Sport).
Jurgen Klopp’s side finished fourth in the Premier League last season to provide themselves with an opportunity to reach the Champions League group stage for only the second time in the last eight seasons. But the final qualifying round draw was not especially kind to them.
Instead of Istanbul Basaksehir, Steaua Bucharest or Young Boys, it was Hoffenheim who came out of the hat. Perhaps aside from Nice, they were the strongest potential opponents and will provide a stiff early test of Liverpool’s ability to compete at a European level.
Klopp certainly improved Liverpool in his first full season at the helm, creating a side who on their day were capable of producing league-winning performances but who struggled to establish sufficient consistency to maintain a title challenge. But the task of taking another step forward this time around will be complicated by the addition of a European campaign.
Liverpool’s opener away to Watford on Saturday in the Premier League suggested that old habits die hard. They were one of only two top-six sides to concede over a goal per match last season and those defensive deficiencies were again evident at Vicarage Road. Three sloppy concessions, including an injury time equaliser, saw them draw 3-3 despite a strong second-half display.
Mohamed Salah opened his account for the club on his competitive debut, but the Egyptian forward has so far been the only big-ticket arrival. Liverpool look likely to fail in their pursuits of Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk and RB Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita, while their own Philippe Coutinho has expressed his desire to move to Barcelona, although Liverpool are for now standing firm in their determination to hold onto him.
With Adam Lallana out for a couple of months and others struggling with minor niggles, the circumstances are not ideal for a tie as important as Tuesday’s trip to the WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar Arena, where Liverpool will face one of the revelations of last season’s Bundesliga.
Hoffenheim narrowly avoided the bottom three in 2015-16 only to then shoot up the table to finish fourth last time out, a full 13 points clear of fifth-placed Koln. Their reward is a first-ever European campaign – one that they hope will be contested in the Champions League rather than the Europa League.
Julian Nagelsmann earned plenty of plaudits for his role in guiding Hoffenheim to their best league finish. The 30-year-old had been earmarked as a future first-team coach following his excellent work in the youth ranks but few expected him to make such an immediate impact when he was thrust into the job following the health-related departure of Huub Stevens last February.
The challenge he now faces is to try and maintain performance levels over a busier schedule and in spite of the departures of two key players from last season in the form of Nikolas Sule and Sebastian Rudy.
It was difficult to garner a great deal from Hoffenheim’s 1-0 win over third division side Rot-Weiss Erfurt in the German Cup on Saturday. Nadiem Amiri scored the decisive goal early into the second half in a match in which they dominated possession and the shot count. What can be said with certainty is that it was a much gentler lead-in to Tuesday’s fixture than that faced by Liverpool.
Against more competitive opposition, Hoffenheim’s matches tend to be frantic shotfests. In the Bundesliga, only matches featuring Bayern Munich averaged more shots than those involving Hoffenheim last season and those were much more heavily weighted towards one side. But Nagelmann’s side did largely get the better of their own contests, with league fourth-best shot and shot-on-target ratios justifying their top-four finish.
This match will, then, see two teams with relatively similar styles contest a competitive and fast-paced encounter. While Liverpool may take a slightly more conservative approach to ensure they leave themselves in a good position to progress in the second leg, a high volume of shots and a few goals should be expected in what will be an entertaining match.
Our Preview’s Hoffenheim vs. Liverpool Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on the draw @ best current odds of 5/2 with SkyBet.
- Back over 2.5 goals @ 4/5 with Bet365.
- Latest Champions League outright winner odds.
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