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Champions League Play-offs 1st Leg: Hoffenheim vs Liverpool, Lineups, Preview, Prediction

With a place in Europe’s top competition at stake, who can gain the edge to take with them to Anfield next Wednesday


19:45 (CEST), Tuesday, August 15th, Wirsol Rhein-Necker-Arena (Sinsheim, Germany) BT Sport 2

An intriguing tie which should see some exciting football as Bundesliga side Hoffenheim take on Liverpool. The English side enter as favourites, with many riding off their German opponents in what could be seen as a David vs Goliath tie in terms of the clubs stature in football.

Liverpool have a massive cloud over their shoulders, the Philippe Coutinho saga is very much present and it is unlikely that manager Jürgen Klopp will call upon his services, which is a massive loss.

Hoffenheim have lost two of their key members in helping them get to the Champions League Qualifier with Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy both opting to join Bayern Munich. How the new pieces like Håvard Nordtveit and Justin Hoogma can adjust to Julian Nagelsmann’s footballing philosophy will be key to Hoffenheim’s success.

Last Time Out

Rot-Weiss Essen 0-1 Hoffenheim (DFB Pokal)

Hoffenheim made the 324km journey north to Erfurt to face-off against third division side Rot-Weiss Erfurt. Julian Nagelsmann’s side produced an uninspired performance as they had 79% of possession but rarely were they able to exploit their underdog opponents.

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The goal would eventually come on 55 minutes which would see Hoffenheim progress to the second round. Kerem Demirbay with the final pass and Nadiem Amiri could beat Erfurt keeper Philipp Klewin at his near post.

Watford 3-3 Liverpool (Premier League)

Liverpool began their Premier League campaign away at Vicarage Road against Watford. It would be the hosts who started well as Stefano Okaka headed home the opening from a corner. Sadio Mane got Liverpool back on level terms, but that lasted all but two minutes as Abdoulaye Doucouré put Watford ahead entering the half.

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The visitors would turn the game on its head as Roberto Firmino levelled the scores from the spot and then Mohamed Salah scored his first Liverpool goal to have Jürgen Klopp’s team marching onwards to three points. However, it would be a corner to once again unravel Liverpool and in stoppage time Miguel Britos would head home from close range to give the Hornets a share of the points.

Hoffenheim Lineup

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Julian Nagelsmann will expect a better showing against Liverpool. Plenty of players are set to return with Steven Zuber, Benjamin Hübner, and first choice goalkeeper Oliver Baumann available and thrown into the starting lineup. Eugen Polanski could be the unlucky player to be moved to the bench whilst Håvard Nordtveit will play as the lone defensive midfielder. Serge Gnabry will be in the squad and could make a massive impact off the bench. At least two changes expected for Hoffenheim.

Liverpool Lineup

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The visitors Liverpool may have shipped three against Watford, but there were plenty of positives going forward for Jürgen Klopp. The trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah were extremely dangerous and they will get the nod once again. James Milner will look to bring some stability into Liverpool’s back four, slotting in as a temporary left back with Alberto Moreno dropping to the bench. Philippe Coutinho has been named in the Champions League squad but whether he makes the trip to Sinsheim is another thing. 

Key Battle: Sandro Wagner vs Joel Matip

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A familiar match-up to fans of the Bundesliga as Hoffenheim’s Sandro Wagner and Liverpool’s Joel Matip are set to go head-to-head on Tuesday night in Sinsheim. Wagner was solid in his first season with Hoffenheim, 11 goals and four assists made him the club’s second-best scorer behind Andrej Kramarić. The 29-year-old is a big, physical striker who isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. Wagner is also quick and strong aerial threat though.

His opposition comes in the form of Joel Matip. The two have faced off before with the win going to Joel Matip on both occasions with Wagner yet to hit the score sheet. Matip had the advantage as he played in a strong back four with Schalke whilst Wagner barely saw much of the ball. On a better side like Hoffenheim, Matip could have his handful keeping the much more potent Wagner at bay.

Talking Points

Set-Pieces

Liverpool’s set piece defence has been nothing but atrocious in the Jurgen Klopp era and with a new season, you would’ve thought one of the club’s biggest weaknesses would have been rectified by now. But no, two of the three goals conceded against Watford came from corners with the vulnerabilities there for all to see. 

Kerem Demirbay is a set-piece magician and must be licking his lips for corners, where Hoffenheim will find their best avenue to goal. If Liverpool don’t improve their zonal marking on corner kicks, it might be goodnight to the Premier League club. 

Coping without Rudy

Sebastian Rudy is a massive reason why Hoffenheim are in this position and have the potential of qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League. Hoffenheim have brought in the experienced Håvard Nordtveit who spent six seasons with Borussia Mönchengladbach before being a non-feature for West Ham last season. Eugen Polanski played the Rudy role in the DFB Pokal 1st round with minimal success. Can Nordtveit be the new Rudy and help the Nagelsmann system thrive against Liverpool.

Prediction: Hoffenheim 1-2 Liverpool

Amongst most, it feels as if few respect Hoffenheim enough to give the club a shout against Liverpool in the Champions League play-offs. Yes, Liverpool have the better team on paper but as illustrated on the weekend, anything can happen no matter how good your side looks prior to kick-off. I think Liverpool will get the crucial away goals but they will be pushed all the way by Hoffenheim.

Who will have the advantage as the two sides face-off next Wednesday at Anfield? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Matthew Karagich

Matthew is currently partaking in a Bachelor of Management (Marketing) at the University of South Australia and has been a RealSport’s writer since December of 2016

He is an all round sports fan but predominately devotes his fandom to German football where he’s a passionate Schalke 04 supporter

Matthew also applies his trade as a goalkeeper for the Rostrevor Old Collegians Soccer Club in Adelaide’s Collegiate Soccer League

Champions League Play-offs 1st Leg: Hoffenheim vs Liverpool, Lineups, Preview, Prediction

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