Liverpool v Hoffenheim: Jonathan Wilson’s tactical preview


TEAM NEWS

As they look to protect a 2-1 first-leg lead, Liverpool are without just the familiar three who have been missing since the start of the season. Nathaniel Clyne has a muscular problem but is expected to be available soon – although he may struggle to displace Trent Alexander-Arnold from the side anyway.

Philippe Coutinho has a back problem and perhaps wouldn’t be available anyway as the rumblings go on about his possible move to Barcelona. Adam Lallana is not expected to be back until October at the earliest with his thigh injury. Hoffenheim’s only probable absentee is the Austrian midfielder Florian Grillitsch, who signed from Werder Bremen in the summer but has a foot injury.

 

RECENT FORM

Liverpool’s 2-1 win in Germany has put them in charge of the tie but it could have been far better had they not conceded the late goal to Mark Uth. Still, they were the first away side to win in Hoffenheim in 15 months and, after a run of just one win in their previous 12 European away games it was a result Jurgen Klopp, as he said, would have taken before kick-off.

After the shaky 3-3 draw against Watford, the sense is of Liverpool settling into the season. They may only have beaten Crystal Palace 1-0 on Saturday but their victory was far more comprehensive than that perhaps sounds as they had 12 shots on target to Palace’s one. Hoffenheim beat Werder 1-0 in their first league game of the season on Saturday, Andrej Kramaric getting the only goal of the game with six minutes remaining.


 

LIVERPOOL FRAILTIES

No side scored more goals from set-plays in the Bundesliga last season than Hoffenheim’s 16, representing a quarter of all the goals they scored. Liverpool held out in the first leg, and also prevented Christian Benteke, whose aerial threat might have been expected to trouble them, from scoring on Saturday, but the 3-3 draw with Watford on the opening day was a reminder of just how much Liverpool have struggled to defend set-plays in recent seasons. There were questions over their defending in the first leg as well. Hoffenheim’s early penalty, which Simon Mignolet saved from Kramaric, resulted from Alberto Moreno’s odd decision to close down the goalkeeper Oliver Baumann, leaving Dejan Lovren exposed. Uth’s equaliser, meanwhile, came from him exploiting the channel between Joel Matip and Alexander-Arnold.

 

THREAT OF SALAH AND MANE

The problem for any side fielding a back three is that there will always be space in behind the wing-backs. Hoffenheim’s pressing helps mitigate that and using wing-backs gives them extra bodies higher up the pitch, but Liverpool threatened again and again in wide areas on the counter-attack through the pace of Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mane. Although it was James Milner who scored it, their second goal came from a similar avenue. It’s not in Klopp’s nature to sit off but given the state of the game, Hoffenheim will have to attack at Anfield and that will probably expose them to Salah and Mane again.

 

HOFFENHEIM’S SHAPE

Last season, although Julian Nagelsman mixed it up, Hoffenheim’s shape at least at home tended to be a 3-1-4-2, the one being Sebastian Rudy. He, though, has now joined Bayern and that seemed to have created a problem. In the first leg Hoffenheim played more of a 3-4-2-1 while on Saturday, the old shape was back with the 19-year-old Dennis Geiger operating as that anchor figure at the back of midfield, dropping back to become an auxiliary central defender at times, allowing the shape effectively to become a back four as the two wide central defenders pushed out towards the flanks. 

That would be a way to combat the threat of Salah and Mane, but Geiger is inexperienced and that capacity to switch from back three to back four according to the flow of the game is something that requires familiarity. The risk when he drops back is that nobody covers him and that leaves a gap in front of the back line that Roberto Firmino dropping off could exploit.

 

VERDICT

Liverpool have won their last five home European games and are unbeaten in nine, while they’ve never lost in 14 games against German opposition at Anfield. They should triumph again against opposition that looked a little callow in the first leg but 1.6 on a home win perhaps isn’t especially exciting. Given the nature of the two teams, the way both press, and the fact Hoffenheim have to score twice to have a chance of going through, it would seem to make sense to back a home win with both teams to score at 2.80.