Liverpool has one foot in Champions League group stage after win over TSG Hoffenheim

Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, left, celebrates scoring on a free kick against TSG Hoffenheim. (Reuters)
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, left, celebrates scoring on a free kick against TSG Hoffenheim. (Reuters)

After days of Philippe Coutinho transfer rumors and a disappointing Premier League opener over the weekend, Liverpool finally has something to feel good about.

The Reds went to TSG Hoffenheim and left with a 2-1 victory in the first leg of their Champions League play-off round, although things got a little tense late.

Liverpool lifted its foot from the gas of manager Jurgen Klopp’s pressing style ever so slightly, walling back Hoffenheim but also conceding a healthy amount of possession. The hosts couldn’t make much of it though, outside of an early penalty opportunity when Serge Gnabry darted into the box and made the most of Lovrenleaving his left leg hanging after a challenge.

Andrej Kramaric then stepped to the spot and either changed his mind mid-attempt, or executed a poor panenka, or who knows what:

Liverpool made Hoffenheim pay about 20 minutes later, when 18-year-old right back Trent Alexander-Arnold scored his first goal for the club, curling a gorgeous free kick around the wall and tucking it just inside the right post:

Midway through the second half, Liverpool looked free and clear when James Milner’s cross was deflected by Havard Nordtveit and fell perfectly inside the far post to double the lead:

Hoffenheim complained that Liverpool had started play too quickly after Sadio Mane earned a free kick in midfield, and indeed the ball was rolling when Georginio Wijnaldum resumed play. But Roberto Firmino took several touches before playing the ball to Milner, who took time in his own right before playing the cross, so it was hardly a clear-cut infringement.

Hoffenheim made things interesting late when Mark Uth collected a long ball off his chest and ripped a confident left-footed finish past Simon Mignolet to cut the lead in half:

From there, Liverpool withstood a storm of Hoffenheim pressure, which produced its best chance when Benjamin Hubner had a free header in the middle of the box but sent his attempt over the bar.

The nervy end called to mind Liverpool’s 3-3 draw at Watford this past Saturday, during which the Reds conceded the tying goal in stoppage time. And off the pitch, Barcelona’s interest in Coutinho has left the Brazilian midfielder out of Liverpool’s squads for both games.

That said, the Reds will host Hoffenheim at Anfield in eight days’ time, and they have to feel confident going home with two away goals. The winner of the two-leg tie will qualify for the Champions League group stage.

Right now, in a welcome reprieve, that looks to be Liverpool.

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