Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side produced a scintillating attacking display as they booked their place in the Champions League group stage with a 4-2 win over Hoffenheim at Anfield.
The Reds got off to a flier with two goals from Emre Can and one from Mohamed Salah giving the home side a seemingly unassailable lead after little more than twenty minutes. Hoffenheim were given a glimmer of hope by Mark Uth’s cool finish before half time, but this was ended by Roberto Firmino, who scored a fourth goal for Liverpool midway through the second half. Hoffenheim striker Sandro Wagner bagged a consolation late on for the German side, but the result was beyond doubt by this point.
Liverpool came out of the blocks well and could’ve scored twice in the opening few minutes. First, a free kick from last week’s hero Trent Alexander-Arnold deflected into the path of Mohamed Salah, who should’ve done better with his close range header. Moments later, Firmino freed Mane who was one on one, but couldn’t guide his low shot beyond Hoffenheim keeper Oliver Baumann.
It wouldn’t be long until the opening goal arrived. In almost a carbon copy of what had just occurred, Firmino set Mane free again, but this time the Senegal winger elected to cut inside a little, then delivered an audacious backheel, with an unmarked Emre Can the willing recipient. Can struck hard and low, and his shot deflected into the net, sending the Reds into the lead.
Hoffenheim struggled to recover from Mane’s mesmerising magic and suddenly it was 2-0. Alberto Moreno found Firmino on the left flank, and the number nine turned his way past Pavel Kaderabek before cutting back to Gini Wijnaldum in the box, the Dutchman’s shot hitting the post, before being turned in from close range by Mohamed Salah for his first goal at Anfield.
A third came just three minutes later, and this was a goal of exceptional quality. Mignolet found Moreno with a goal kick, and what followed was sublime one touch football. The Spaniard gave the ball to Firmino, who passed back to Gini Wijnaldum, the former Newcastle player hitting an inch perfect ball to Sadio Mane down the left flank. Mane, who terrorised Hoffenheim all night, cut past former West Ham player Havard Nordveit, before finding Firmino with his second back heel of the night. Firmino, who had run half the pitch to get here, sent in a cross first time to Emre Can, who tapped home. It was the German’s second of the night, and one of the finest team goals you will ever see scored, and certainly one of the best in the Jurgen Klopp era.
As wonderful as Liverpool’s attack is, the defence will always have question marks against it, and they came under threat first when Serge Gnabry missed a sitter, before the former Arsenal man helped set up Hoffenheim’s goal. Dejan Lovren was once again at fault as his poor mistake allowed substitute Mark Uth to slide the ball beyond Mignolet from a tight angle.
Firmino should’ve restored the three goal lead when he somehow failed to convert Salah’s cross after great work from Trent Alexander-Arnold. Can then very nearly completed an unlikely first half hat trick after he fired wide when Mane set him up after running rings around the defence, again. The final action of the opening 45 was Mignolet making an alert save to deny Uth a second goal. A ridiculous first half, in which Liverpool could quite easily have scored seven times, ended with Sadio Mane raising the already raucous atmosphere by geeing the fans up, as the adoring supporters responded by pumping up the volume. It must be said that Mane appears to be replacing Coutinho as the darling of the Anfield crowd.
The second half was far less crazy. Liverpool were more solid defensively and as the German side attacked without real progress, opportunities came for Liverpool to kill the game off.
Wijnaldum missed a fabulous chance to put the game to bed, before Mane’s strike from a wide angle was well saved by Baumann. Liverpool extended their advantage though when skipper Jordan Henderson, who had an otherwise quiet night, brilliantly robbed the ball from Kevin Vogt in possession. Henderson streamed through on goal and selflessly squared to Firmino, who struck a first time finish to the near post, registering a deserved goal during a terrific display.
Hoffenheim got a goal back late on when former Leicester striker Andrej Kramaric found Sandro Wagner with a cross, and Wagner rose above Lovren to nod home. The goal mattered very little, but against stronger sides Liverpool will need to cut it out.
This win ensures that Liverpool will compete in the Champions League proper for the first time since 2014, and represents a significant step in Jurgen Klopp’s tenure. Reds fans can now look forward to the next stage of the competition, where they will face Spartan Moscow, Sevilla and Maribor in Group E. Liverpool are joining fellow English sides Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City in the group stages, as a return to European’s elite awaits.
Simon Mignolet – 8/10
Two very good saves at crucial times in the match, could do very little about either goal. A few nervy moments.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 8/10
Another very promising display. Says a lot that the free kick was just handed to him so early in the game. How does Clyne get back in?
Dejan Lovren – 5/10
An uncomfortable evening for Lovren. Could’ve done better for the second goal and is hugely at fault for the first, which created some nerves.
Joel Matip – 7/10
Good performance in the heart of defence, cut out some attacks and played the ball well.
Alberto Moreno – 8/10
How much has this guy improved?! Another great performance. Involved in two goals, attacked well all night, linked with Mane, and covered his flank brilliantly. Ladies and gents, we have two very competent left backs.
Jordan Henderson – 7/10
A quiet game, I still don’t think he’s suited to the number six role. Love his role in the fourth goal, only he, Lallana and Firmino would be capable of that pressing. Elite.
Emre Can – 8/10
Two really nice goals, and could’ve had a third as well. Really good general play, a classic Can performance. Get that contract sorted.
Gini Wijnaldum – 6/10
Has to be deducted a point or two for the glaring miss in the second half. A quiet but effective display, and a stunning ball to contribute to the third goal.
Sadio Mane – 10/10
What a player. Just magical. Adds an entirely different dimension to Liverpool. Scarily quick, and unbelievably intelligent with his play. Sensational performance, such a shame he didn’t get the goal this display deserved.
Mohamed Salah – 7/10
Overshadowed by the incredulity of Mane and Firmino, Salah suffered with less attacks going down his side. Was still involved in some nice moves though, and bagged his first Anfield goal with calmness.
Roberto Firmino – 10/10
Another perfect display. He was on the left, on the right, in the centre, absolutely exceptional. Almost everything we did came from him or Mane. That might have been his best ever Liverpool display.
Joe Gomez – 7/10
Gomez has done really well so far this season. For me, he could be getting regular games at CB if Lovren’s struggles continue.
James Milner – 6/10
Almost bizarre to see Milner in midfield, but he brings a good head onto the pitch. Will play a role this season, no doubt.
Ragnar Klavan – N/A
Was brought on to see the game out. He also could have an argument to be playing ahead of Lovren, as he did on Saturday.
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