LIVERPOOL CRUISE INTO CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUPSTAGES DEFEAT HOFFENHEIM 4-2
JURGEN KLOPP claimed football is unlike ice-skating and that he is not interested in performances of beauty.
Yet his team delivered a majestic attacking display last night – one which deserved full marks – to ensure a fifth English team in Thursday’s Champions League draw.
As for Hoffenheim, they crashed through the ice and into the Europa League draw instead.
Problems remain in Liverpool’s defence as we saw on a couple of occasions yet again but some of their offensive play was absolutely brilliant. Philippe who? . . .
This was Klopp’s biggest contest of his Liverpool career and he was clearly under some pressure going into the game, yet man-of-the-match Roberto Firmino tormented Hoffenheim and was rewarded with a second half goal, while Sadio Mane was also impressive, yet again.
In a stunning opening 21 minutes, Emre Can scored twice and Mohamed Salah grabbed his first goal at Anfield. Klopp had nothing to worry about. The tie was already over.
Given stick back home in Germany for the style of his team’s 2-1 win in the first leg, Klopp went on the defensive before the game and seemed to be getting a few excuses in.
In that terrific opening spell, as good as anything you will see in the early stages of a second leg match, Liverpool embarrassed their opponents.
This was the battle between the fourth-placed teams in the Premier League and Bundesliga and for once – not that it means much at this stage – England came out on top.
How Liverpool progress in the group stages remains to be seen but at least the club are back where they want to be and can avoid those Thursday nights with even more matches being played on a Sunday..
This was a brutal lesson for Hoffenheim’s 30-year-old manager Julian Nagelsmann, who has done an incredible job by bringing this club into Europe for the first time but watched in horror as his defence was torn to shreds by the home side’s front three.
Arsenal visit Anfield on Sunday and Arsene Wenger will not have been comfortable watching this.
After a powerful start, with Hoffenheim’s defence looking overwhelmed, Liverpool’s opener was no surprise.
Firmino crafted a clever diagonal to Mane who got in behind the defence. He caused havoc with a backheel and Can swept the ball into the net with the help of a deflection off Havard Nordtveit.
The flying start continued. There was some great stuff from Firmino down the left, he teased the visiting team’s defence before finding Georginio Wijnaldum whose effort hit the post.
Yet Nordtveit was playing Salah onside and the former Chelsea man stuck the rebound into the net for his opening home strike. The best goal of the lot was Liverpool’s third – and we were not even a quarter into the game.
Wijanldum showed great vision by finding Mane who completed a fine run with yet another brilliant backheel and Firmino floated the ball across to Can to score the third.
Nordveit, who arrived from West Ham in the summer and scored an own goal in the first leg, had his humiliation complete midway inside the first leg when he was subbed for Mark Uth.
The tactical switch, which saw Hoffenheim revert to a back four, initially made a big difference.
Dejan Lovren made a mistake – another one – and Sandro Wagner released Uth who shot under the leg of Alerto Moreno and beyond Simon Mignolet.
Hardly surprisingly, Klopp was clearly annoyed with his team and the way they had switched off.
Liverpool struggled to increase their intensity in the second half but they still had plenty of chances. Keeper Olivier Baumann stopped the village club from suffering a major battering.
Firmino got the goal he had deserved for a cracking performance. Skipper Jordan Henderson won a 50-50 challenge with Kevin Vogt and he squared for Firmino.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson: “Brilliant night, the start we set with the tempo, we scored some good goals early on.
“We can improve on the goals we conceded but we’re delighted to be back where we belong.
“Everything we worked for last season we’ll continue to work on. We need to make sure in the Champions League we do ourselves justice. I’m delighted for the lads and the fans as well.
“We proved we can play against big teams and do well. We’ll play whoever we’re up against.”