Klopp and Liverpool eager to finish the job
Champions League group stage beckons if Hoffenheim hurdle is cleared at Anfield
Jurgen Klopp: “It is half-time. That is how I see it. It is half-time and we are in the break.” Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty
In terms of prestige, reward and potential ramifications, Liverpool face the third final of Jürgen Klopp’s reign when they host Hoffenheim in the Champions League play-off round.
“You can look on it as a final but in the end it is a football game. It is not allowed to make it bigger,” said Liverpool’s manager.
For Liverpool and Klopp, however, there is no disguising the magnitude of tonight’s second leg at Anfield.
Liverpool have a glorious opportunity to not only qualify for the Champions League group stage for a 10th time, and the second time in eight seasons, but also to shape the complexion of their campaign from the start.
A return to the European elite would reward last season’s labours and the fight to finish above Arsenal and Manchester United in Klopp’s first full term as manager.
It would also make Anfield an even more appealing prospect for Virgil van Dijk with a little over a week of the transfer window remaining and Liverpool still keen on the commanding Southampton defender.
And it should make staying more palatable for Philippe Coutinho. Liverpool have made it clear to the Brazilian, through Klopp in Hong Kong last month, the FSG president Mike Gordon in Munich three weeks ago and in rejecting a bid of €130m last Friday, that he will not be sold to Barcelona this summer.
“Of course,” said Klopp, when asked if he would welcome Coutinho back into the Liverpool fold. “Absolutely 100 per cent. It’s 100 per cent clear that nothing changed. I said already, nothing changed.”
Illness as well as a back injury will keep the unsettled playmaker away from a game that even Klopp, despite his attempt to downplay the importance of the fixture, admits will have the feel of a final.
“I do not think in life it makes a lot of sense that if you have big chance you think about the consequences if you lose. In finals you go for it and try your best. Is it good to be in a final? Yes. Is it good to lose it? No. But the only possibility to lose it is to go to it. I will not think about this when I am at home in my bed and thinking about the game,” he added
“It is not about what can happen, it is about what we can influence. I know it is a legend of Anfield on European nights, they are really special and we need these special nights. Everyone who wants this needs to do their job tomorrow. I can guarantee the boys will fight for everything. It does not mean we will do it, but it means we will fight for it.
“ I hope we will show the world what we were are able to do. We have to make the next step. The big difference between the game last week and now is that everybody knows how strong the opponent is. I don’t think anyone thinks, ‘great, halfway through’. We have a good result – not a perfect result – but a good one and with the power of Anfield we have to put it to bed.”
History stands on Liverpool’s side and not only because the Champions League play-off constitutes Hoffenheim’s entire experience of European competition after 10 years as a professional club.
In 18 European games against German opposition at Anfield, Liverpool have never lost, keeping 13 clean sheets in the process.
In 33 European ties when Liverpool have won the first leg away from home, they have never been eliminated at Anfield. The advantage is with Klopp’s team after the 2-1 win at Rhein-Neckar-Arena last week but the first leg encouraged both coaches.
“It is half-time,” insisted Klopp. “That is how I see it. It is half-time and we are in the break. We spoke after the game last week, yesterday, today and tomorrow about Hoffenheim. We want to learn from our mistakes and what we did over there.”
Klopp’s defenders were vulnerable in the first leg and grateful to Simon Mignolet for two important saves. Alberto Moreno was caught out frequently and although one of the five rested against Crystal Palace last Saturday, his place is under increased pressure following Andy Robertson’s assured Liverpool debut in that game.
Offensively it was a different story with Sadio Mané flourishing against Hoffenheim’s three-man central defence and revelling in the space behind the right wing-back Pavel Kaderabek. The Senegal international prompted Ermin Bicakcic’s substitution by gliding beyond the defender twice in as many minutes.
Hoffenheim’s shape and selection may alter at Anfield although their coach, Julian Nagelsmann, insists the natural adventure of a team that kept only three clean sheets away from home in the Bundesliga last season will not be contained.
“Excitement is the predominant feeling,” said Nagelsmann.
“I am not in awe. We are good enough not to have to hide here. We know this is a great club with a great history but my feeling is excitement. Liverpool know they’re not going to need an early goal. They are going to play by waiting a bit to see how stable we are. We are going to try to take the lead and if we do that’s going to change Liverpool.”