Goals from Trent Alexander-Arnold, via a superbly curled free kick, and substitute James Milner helped Liverpool put a firm foot ahead in their Champions League Playoff tie against Hoffenheim, a team that didn’t lose a game on their home ground for the entirety of last season.
Although Hoffenheim pulled one back through substitute Mark Uth, Liverpool remain in a fantastic position ahead of the second leg next Wednesday. The Germans know they’ll have to perform spectacularly if they are to reach the group stage in their maiden Champions League campaign.
Goalkeeper Simon Mignolet was the hero for Liverpool early on as he kept out a Hoffenheim penalty taken by former Leicester forward Andrej Kramaric.
The penalty was as a result of a Dejan Lovren tackle on former Arsenal player Serge Gnarby and Kramaric played the spot kick effortlessly down the middle for Mignolet to improve his penalty saving ratio. The Belgian has now saved seven of 20, a huge 35% of spot kicks he has faced.
Hoffenheim struggled to cope with the pace of Liverpool counter attacks with Mohamed Salah and Saido Mane wreaking havoc down the flanks. Salah almost went close on a counter attack only to shoot just wide around the half hour.
Another counter attacking move, this time lead by Mane saw him tripped on his way into the Hoffenheim penalty box. The resulting free kick was brilliantly bent over the last man in the Hoffenheim wall, into the left bottom corner of the Hoffenheim goal by youngster Trent Alexander-Arnold. Goalkeeper Oliver Baumann could only watch as he wheeled away in delight.
The game ended 1-0 at half time. And though Liverpool struggled to cope with crosses and set pieces from the joint leading scorers of set pieces in the Bundesliga last term, they held on going into the dressing room.
Ermin Bicakcic had to be taken off early into the second half as he was on a yellow and Mane seemed to be having an easy ride against him on the right of the back three. In his place, came in former West Ham man Havard Nordteveit. He didn’t have it easier has Mane was having a good game.
James Milner came in and had an immediate impact scoring a goal off unlucky Nortdteveit as the ball into the box flew into the top right corner via his chest.
It was a nervy finish from Liverpool who had to deal with corner after corner looking unconvincing defensively, as they had done for the most part of the game.
The Germans gave themselves a lifeline with three minutes of normal time left when a diagonal ball played into the box found Mark Uth. Whilst the Liverpool defense appealed for offside, the substitute maintained concentration and finished into the bottom corner with a powerful shot.
Hubner had a great chance to earn Hoffenheim what could have been a deserved draw, but the defender headed high despite being unmarked on a free kick. It capped up what has been a wasteful night in front of goal for TSG.
Hoffenheim could do no more as Liverpool headed into the second leg at Anfield with one leg firmly in the Champions League group stages and their record of having never lost a European qualifying game intact.
Writer: Awolope Kolawole